Solar Feed-in Tariffs – how essential was it to get rid of them?

Australian governments at Federal and State level had a collective rush of blood to the head over the last two years and dropped solar PV feed-in tariffs to levels that are only a fraction of what they were two years ago.

No doubt this was largely inspired by a combination of pressure from power companies, surgent neo-liberal philosophy reinforced by a drive to achieve budget surpluses, and panic in the face of the rapid increase in domestic solar PV installations – yikes!! the policy is working – not something that the current Federal government is used to seeing.

The level of installed domestic solar PV in Australia increased dramatically in 2010-2012.  The graph below shows the change up to 2011, and it continued at the same rate into 2012.

Take up of solar PV in Australia.  Circles show total installed capacity, rectangles show new capacity installed in the given year. [Data from DataMarket (http://data.is/naKtrl), image by Mike Sandiford. Figure in this blog from link to: http://theconversation.edu.au/whos-afraid-of-solar-pv-8987%5D

Yes, people did continue to install grid-connected solar power, but not at the levels they would have done with the incentive of higher feed-in tariffs.

Does this matter?  Well, yes, very much so, given that the rate at which the world has been generating greenhouse gases means that we have to totally phase out the use of fossil fuels over the next two decades if we are to have any chance of avoiding 6 degC of global warming by the end of the century.(#)

An investment in higher solar power feed-in tariffs for few years now would have very significantly reduced the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation now and into the future, and would have bought time to find alternatives so that we could replace existing fossil fuel generating plants with non-fossil fuel generation.

Japan, a country which has been in more or less permanent recession for 20 years and which, as a result of very significant ongoing tsunami reconstruction expenses, has every reason to cut other budget programs would seem an unlikely country to introduce or maintain high solar feed-in tariffs.

A member of the Alternative Technology Association‘s Brisbane group reported on their discussion group today that large Sharp solar panels (made in Japan) have been becoming increasingly difficult to source in Australia.  Here’s what he said:

Sharp 167W 24V poly panels have been almost impossible to get all year.  185W 16V mono panels have been easier but not available from usual channels for the last 6 months or so.
Sharp is no longer importing their made in Japan panels into Australia because they are instead servicing the world leading Japanese feed in tariff of over 50c/kWh L. [sorry can’t give you a link, you have to be a member to access the discussion group]

In fact, the Japanese government has, for a long time, been seeking to expand solar power by enacting subsidies and a feed-in tariff. In December 2008, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced a goal of 70% of new homes having solar power installed, and would be spending $145 million in the first quarter of 2009 to encourage home solar power.

The Japanese government enacted a feed-in tariff on November, 2009 that requires utilities to purchase excess solar power sent to the grid by homes and businesses and pay twice the standard electricity rate for that power. In that year, Japan had the third largest solar capacity in the world (behind Germany and Spain), with most of it grid connected

On June 18, 2012, despite being in the top five globally for installed PV, a new feed-in tariff was approved, of 42 Yen/kWh, about 0.406 Euro/kWh or USD 0.534/kWh. The tariff covers the first ten years of excess generation for systems less than 10 kW, and generation for twenty years for systems over 10 kW. It became effective July 1, 2012. (Source: Solar Power in Japan – Wikipedia)

But here in the Lucky Country, raking in the taxes and royalties from a mining boom, the government thinks we can’t afford higher feed-in tariffs, even to protect our grandchildren from globally destructive chaos.

__________________

# There are a lot of recent sources to back this up, but you could start with:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-zeller-jr/climate-change-math-politicians_b_2147001.html and www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/09/fossil-fuel-infrastructure-climate-change [see particularly the paragraph beginning: The new research adds to that finding…]

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