Solar panels on the roof of an apartment building in a residential district in Stockholm. Solar panels on the roof of an apartment building in a residential district in Stockholm.

Untapped solar rooftop potential costing Australians billions each year: new report

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Cecilia  Duong
Cecilia Duong,

Rooftop solar can deliver $9.3 billion in cost savings for people living in apartments or houses.

A new report has revealed Australians are missing out on $9.3 billion per year in potential cost savings for people living in apartments, social housing, and private rental houses.

Australia is a world-leader in residential photovoltaic deployment with rooftop solar installed in almost one in three houses.

However, most of those houses are owner-occupier – meaning rental houses, apartment buildings and social housing are missing out on savings.

The ‘Rooftop Solar Potential of Australian Housing Stock by Tenure and Dwelling Type’ report was conducted by researchers from UNSW School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering in collaboration with the Australian Photovoltaic Institute.

The study, commissioned by Solar Citizens, found total potential for rooftop solar installation is estimated at approximately 61 gigawatts (GW), which could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 785 megatonnes over the next 20 years.

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Social housing, apartments and private rental housing are significantly underrepresented in Australia's penetration of residential solar. Image: Getty Images

Untapped potential

The researchers carried out an assessment of all the residential buildings across Australia to estimate how many extra solar panels could be installed on those sites.

As of June last year, approximately 15.1GW of residential solar was installed in Australia.

The report found there was approximately 45.8GW of unrealised potential solar energy for houses and apartments across the country – that’s three times the number of panels currently installed on roofs.

The results also show New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have the highest share of this solar potential across the country.

Dr Mike Roberts, UNSW Senior Research Fellow and one of the authors of the report, says there will be many households across the nation that have the potential to save even more on their power bills with rooftop solar.

“Our analysis found the power of solar can deliver average annual household bill savings $1300 each year,” he says.

“Apartments are another housing type where government investment now will pay high dividends in cheaper bills and less emissions for long into the future.

“Apartment buildings are missing out on three gigawatts of solar power, more than two gigawatts on social housing and a massive 12GW in the rental sector, which includes both houses and apartments.

“Apartment residents could be saving an average of $500 to $700 a year on their energy bills and could be paying off the system in five years or less.

“While we have seen recent action on solar for social housing through collaboration between several state and federal governments, this approach should be fast-tracked to a greater number of social homes, given the outstanding cost savings on bills and other benefits delivered.”

Making energy savings more equitable

With the surge in wholesale energy costs in Australia and subsequent increase in retail electricity prices putting more pressure on low-income households, installing more solar on social and community housing could help ease the financial burden of higher energy bills.

Dr Roberts says the report highlights that certain sectors, such as social housing and rental properties, need targeted incentives to encourage more landlords to consider adopting rooftop solar.

“For rental properties, a big part of the problem is because the cost of installing solar is absorbed by landlords but the benefits go to the tenants,” he says.

“To address this, this report recommends giving tenants increased visibility of the financial benefits of solar which could be reflected in their rental rates – allowing landlords to recoup their investment costs.

“Targeted subsidies, such as Solar Victoria’s Solar Rebates for Rental Scheme, could also incentivise landlords to invest in solar, as could rule changes to allow the associated capital costs to be offset through instant tax write-offs.”

Our analysis found the power of solar can deliver average annual household bill savings $1,300 each year.
Dr Mike Roberts

Good for the economy, too

Beyond households saving on their energy bills, more rooftop solar installations will also help boost the economy.

The report found that closing the solar potential gap would create 240,000 additional job-years of employment in the solar industry, supporting those working in solar sales and installation roles – that’s the equivalent of employing 48,000 people for five years.

Joel Pringle, National Campaigns Director at Solar Citizens, says: “Australian households struggling with rising costs of living have the potential for more than $9 billion in energy bill savings sitting right now in untapped rooftop solar potential.

“That’s nine billion good reasons for the Albanese government to make a significant investment in supporting more rooftop solar for households, people living in apartments and social housing and renters in the upcoming federal budget.

“Unlocking this solar potential can return money to people’s pockets, deliver 785 megatonnes in avoided carbon emissions over 20 years and the up-front investment is repaid in bill savings for households within about five years.

“Cleaner, cheaper rooftop solar energy is a win for both energy bill relief and reducing climate pollution. One in three Australian homes has now gone solar, we need greater government support to ensure the financial and health benefits are extended to all Australian households.”