This correspondence was originally published in the June 2023 edition of the Quarterly Essay, in response to the March 2023 edition by Saul Griffith.
While the pivotal role of electrification in decarbonisation has been understood for decades, it has rarely been described as vividly or enthusiastically as by Saul Griffith in The Wires That Bind. Griffith recognises that electrification is a story, at its heart, not about decarbonisation but about cleaning the air in our kitchens and streets, improving the liveability of our homes and communities, and “keeping wealth in our households and communities” – and nation. In short, electrification is a story about a better future.
While attuned to this human story of electrification, Griffith is, at heart, an engineer so it’s no surprise that The Wires That Bind is packed full of figures. Emissions are carved up, the grid is mapped and fossil machines are counted. This achieves Griffith’s goal of “clarity about the job in front of us” and complements his persuasive case for electrifying everything. The question that remains is: how can the transition best be accelerated and steered towards just and enduring outcomes?
Home owners may welcome cheap loans for double-glazing or battery-ready solar but making negative gearing conditional on upgrades has been suggested as more effective for landlords.
Research shows up front costs are not the largest barrier to rental property investments in solar, and it may be the same for energy upgrades, energy expert Bjorn Sturmberg has warned.
Property investors do not believe spending money on new energy sources and appliances will get them higher rents – that’s the biggest barrier, Dr Sturmberg said on Wednesday.
New research from a collaboration with ANU policy and economics experts has just been published in Energy Policy – available free of charge here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421523000022
The policy implications of our findings are summarised below.
Policy interventions that seek to redress the near exclusion of rental properties from solar PV face a delicate balance in both perceptions and impacts: creating benefits for tenants, who may be worried about having to pay higher rents, without overly benefiting property investors, who are relatively wealthy.
The core policy implication of our study is that policies that focus primarily on addressing high upfront costs (as have historically been used) are likely to be limited in their reach. The BWS survey indicated that respondent property investors are on average concerned that they would be unable to benefit from installing solar PV by charging higher rents.
Correcting information asymmetries by focusing policies on mechanisms to make the value of solar more visible to all parties in the market could be a means to release policymakers from the loaded challenge of balancing the incentives offered to property investors and the benefits flowing to tenants.
One way through which to increase visibility of the value of solar PV is through active monitoring and disclosure of the performance of solar PV systems to the rental market (providing the market with assurance that a system is operating well). This is most effective when the value is presented in tangible financial (dollar) terms, rather than more abstract ratings such as energy efficiency stars.
Solar Analytics – which specialises in data and monitoring devices – has expanded its business into offering solar for renters, launching Solar for Rentals, following its acquisition of Sydney-based start-up SunTenants earlier in the year.
The Solar for Rentals offering includes a calculator that can be used by both tenants and landlords to estimate the value of a rooftop solar installation and determine what a “fair” increase to a property’s rent may be.
When paired with Solar Analytics system performance monitoring dashboard, Solar for Renters is able to provide a transparent platform for both landlords and tenants that should help breakdown the confusion that can come with installing a solar system on a rental property.
How can we share the benefits of rooftop solar with the millions of Australian who don’t own a roof?
In greater Sydney, alone, as One Step Off The Grid has reported, 2017 census data showed nine council areas had more than half of residents “locked out” of solar by their rental status. And in North Sydney, almost three-quarters of residents couldn’t access solar due to being renters or living in apartment buildings.
The quest to make solar available to renters in Australia is the focus of a new project led by researchers at Australian National University and will tackle the problem at a policy level, by providing governments with evidence of what interventions are likely to succeed.
A series of grants totaling over half a million dollars have been awarded to researchers from four institutions to delve into making Australia’s energy markets more fair and equitable.
“These projects have each demonstrated the potential to make significant positive impact in areas where consumers are currently not best served by the energy system,” Energy Consumers Australia chief executive officer Lynne Gallagher said.
With Australians who live in rental properties seven times less likely to have rooftop solar, researchers from Australian National University (ANU) have been granted $77,070 to discover and advise on what policies will best address the discrepancy.
Exploring ways for renters to benefit from solar power and renewable energy transition is the focus of a new project at The Australian National University (ANU).
Led by Dr Lee White, Mara Hammerle and Dr Bjorn Sturmberg, the project, How can we involve renters in the renewable energy transition in Australia? has secured funding from Energy Consumers Australia.
Here’s what the very popular website SolarQuotes had to say about SunTenants
Almost one-third of Australians live in rental properties. This is a problem because tenants don’t like paying their own money to put solar panels on their landlord’s roof and few landlords see solar power as a good investment. Because of this, lots of the population are missing out on the savings solar slathers all over electricity bills. It also prevents the world benefiting from the extra clean energy that would be generated.
SunTenants is a company working to resolve this problem and get more solar panels on rental roofs. They do this by solving the coordination problem between renters and landlords. SunTenants can fix this problem — for a price. But if the alternative is no solar gets installed then I think it is a price worth paying.
Read their joke filled write up here.