Vice Chancellor’s Sustainable Development Committee Award Winner

What happens after the solar subsidy boom?

Governments world-wide have contributed significant funds to promote the adoption of solar electricity systems. The benefits of solar energy in reducing emissions are widely understood, but there isn’t the same focus on whether funds to promote solar have been well-spent.

Genevieve Simpson, PhD Candidate in the School of Earth and Environment, was recently named the 2014 Vice Chancellor’s Sustainable Development Committee Award winner for the category ‘Global and Local Sustainability Innovation’. Her work focuses on perceptions of domestic solar energy systems, and seeks to look at interactions beyond the economic benefits to households installing systems.

“There’s a lot of talk in the media about people with solar “shirking their dues” or subsidies being “middle class welfare”. My research suggests that householders might not be concerned about a transfer of wealth, but are concerned about tax dollars being misspent.”

Householders were concerned that systems subsidised by the government could be of poor quality and that there were ‘dodgy’ suppliers. “Quite a few people were talking about how this could be the next ‘pink batts’ scandal.” Genevieve’s research promotes increased activity and transparency in auditing, regulating and certification of systems and suppliers.

Survey respondents also demonstrated an interest in having access to quality, independent information. “In the past householders consumed electricity in a pretty simple way – it was a one-way transaction based on cheap energy and small consumption loads. That’s all changed.”

Constantly increasing electricity tariffs, combined with reductions in solar system prices, mean solar is something households are considering even without generous rebates. “There’s a problem though in that most people don’t know much about their energy use – when they use, on what and why. This can make them vulnerable to solar retailers who might overstate the benefits of a solar system. My research also shows that people who receive their information from friends and family on solar, rather than by doing their own research, are three times more likely to be unsatisfied with their solar system.”

“I would love an outcome of this research to be an increased interest in energy literacy for households. It’s worth remembering that solar systems require minerals and energy to produce, and are still expensive for some households. Reducing electricity consumption through energy efficiency and changing habits might result in better economic and environmental outcomes.”

Genevieve Simpson’s first paper coming out of this research has already been published in the journal Energy Policy.

She is currently interviewing members of the sustainable energy industry, local and state government politicians, and community members regarding their perceptions of domestic solar energy and interactions with stakeholders. This research focuses on regional communities and the role social networks can play in promoting the adoption of domestic solar energy.

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