Retrospective: From Australia’s First Solar Powered House to Now

The combination of Australia’s dry climate and latitude provides it with high potential for solar energy production. What is more, Australia’s insolation (the power per unit area received from the Sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation) vastly exceeds the average values in Europe, Russia and most of North America is comparable to desert regions of Africa and South America’s Pacific coast. Let’s take an overview of its development from the pioneering project to future prospects.

The Bos House – small steps

Back in the day, there was much talk about the energy crisis and how the oil was running out, confides Judy Bos, the owner of Australia’s first fully autonomous solar powered home. Unimpressed by the way other houses blasted their resources for heating and cooling, Judy and Michael Bos wanted to design a house that stays naturally cool in summer and warm in winter. Built in 1978, in south-eastern outskirts of Melbourne, the house draws heavily from passive design, smart landscaping, using winds turbines to pump water and collecting rainwater, but the most impressive feature were the series of solar panels that charged a cupboard of lead acid batteries. Michael Harris, who used to run tours of the house in 1980s, said that back then, people were very interested in being self-sufficient and living off the grid.

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Towards brilliant examples

Nestled in a blustery seaside village of Cape Paterson in Southern Gippsland, the 10-Star Home is a stellar example of a carbon-positive, four-bedroom home conceived with a zero-waste philosophy. The first home of its kind in the State of Victoria, this 10-star energy rated home has no mechanical heating and cooling – it uses passive solar design, cross-flow ventilation and heavy-duty insulation. With a 5kW solar photovoltaic system on the roof, the home is reported to be producing twice as much power as it needs. In order to increase the amount of outdoor space in their 200-square-metre Yarraville block, Scott and Leanne Thompson added a green roof to their century-old worker’s cottage. In addition to increasing their garden setting in infamously costly inner-city Melbourne, they’ve insulated their kitchen and living area and minimised stormwater run-off. Dubbed Melbourne Vernacular, this heritage home now uses a range of innovations to cut carbon emissions and reduce the energy use, crowned with a 4kW solar PV system.

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Solar rebates in Australia

Credit refund amounts that the government offers to qualifying homeowners and businesses depends on the size of the solar unit and the property location. However, as with all government-related matters, changes are inevitable, so it’s always good to check resources before you invest in solar energy. The government-issued STCs (Small-Scale Technology Certificates) that solar home owners receive are sold to utility companies and used to offset the cost of the equipment installation. The number of STCs a user receives depends on the solar zone of the property. For example, a 1.5kW system in Melbourne, which is in zone four that receives the least sunshine, would receive 26.6 STCs.   

Projects that unplug Australia

Backed by scaled-up production of photovoltaic components and costs that continue to fall, global solar power is growing steadily, with China, USA, and Japan spearheading the lead with the most PV capacity added in 2016. In Australia, the cost of solar power is now well below the retail power prices in the capital cities, and it keeps falling. Every year, Australia adds more solar power than the combined capacity of SA’s recently closed Northern and Playford coal-powered plants. What is more, solar battery storage for households and businesses is already gaining round in Australia, with more than 6,500 homes using the technology. Large-scale developments such as the Lakeland solar and battery storage show a full potential of combining large-scale solar and energy storage technologies that can make entire communities less dependent on the grid and highly resistant to consumption-peak blackouts.

Despite the overall high potential, Australia’s often been internationally rebuked for not producing more energy from its solar resources. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that areas with the highest insolation are distant to Australia’s population hubs on the coast. Nonetheless, solar power remains one of Australia’s growing industries with predictions of reaching 20 GW of solar power in the next 20 years, which is the equivalent of the third of the current national power generation capacity.

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