For some people, the choice to switch to solar panels and generate power for their homes is purely economical; they primarily see it as a chance for lower bills and financial incentives like rebates and believe that it is therefore a practical and viable solution to the issue of cheaper electricity. For others, the use of solar energy means something bigger, the chance to tackle the greater environmental issue of global warming. Australia’s track record on the subject of renewable energy and climate change initiatives is a little patchy but the nation has been a trailblazer in the use of solar panels and solar technology in the past and can take some credit for the way that the wider world is now using solar energy to take on the problem of global warming.
The current situation in Australia tells two different stories but the work that has previously been carried out has lead to some significant steps in the fight for renewable energy and against climate change across the world:
- In Australia, the amount of PV installations has increased substantially with more than one of ten houses said to have some form of system installed.
- In Japan, green efforts and a love of solar panels is also increasing to make them one of the world leaders
- In Germany, a nation known for its green image, more people are said to be employed in the renewable energy sector than the car industry.
In fact, solar power is said to be the fastest growing form of renewable energy on a global scale – with growth rates of 60% year on year – making it one of the best weapons we have to fight climate change internationally. The problem that many people are seeing in Australia, however, is a stagnation of progress and a change in focus by the government, which are both concerning for the future use of solar power. Australia was a great innovator in solar power at one time, supplying much of the technology that is used in Japan, Germany and other nations and some question whether it is now being left behind in this global fight.
Government policies may be working against the need for renewable energy but there are other ways that Australia is continuing to promote the use of solar power and tackle climate change.
One of the ways that Australia has tried to fight climate change on a wider scale is by targeting big businesses with large scale initiatives and taxes. The CCS initiative (carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power stations) has been criticised for being to late to make any real difference because it is not expected to be widely implemented until at least 2030 but it is a great example of a high-level measure targeting the worst offenders and trying to make a difference. Additionally, a carbon price was launched in 2012 that meant businesses emitting over 25,000 tonnes of CO2 a year would have to have to pay for an emissions permit. As potentially beneficial as this was, it was unfortunately scrapped in July 2014 by Abbot’s government.
At the other end of the scale, away from the country’s big industries and cities is another approach to the use of solar power that is just as influential and promising in the way that it has overtaken traditional forms of energy – the use of solar cells for simple power in rural areas. Accessibility to power will always be a major concern in any nation and the use of solar in off-grid areas in Australia has shown the true potential of the technology on a global scale. The applications that have been used are both simplistic and surprising and they include the following:
- power for people’s homes
- power to pump remote wells for drinking water
- power for street lights and signals on rural roads and railway lines
- power for communications systems, which even includes solar panels on public telephones
Additionally, there has been a growth in the use of solar water heating across Australia in private homes, hotels, camp sites, swimming pools and even hospitals. Sometimes it is not that solar power is a more appealing option because it is green but that it is simply the more viable option to fossil fuels and traditional sources of electricity.
Accessibility of information and tech is another reason why some new ideas can fail, even in urban areas. Poorer areas reliant on coal and gas may not wish to change or be aware of the option, and this is where education is also important in the use of solar power to fight climate change.
With greater education about the potential of solar power as a green alternative and a realistic source of energy, the fight against climate change has greater longevity.
Educational programs are a simple but often under-utilized tool in making a significant change – whether political, environmental or other – as they can make a wider group of citizens more aware of the options available, provide a choice where it may not have been possible before and set a good example for future generations. Again, this is something that should be universal in the climate change battle and Australia are playing their part. The use of solar panels to power major public buildings like State Parliament and the Adelaide Airport show the potential scale and use of solar panels for adults but it is the program to supply schools with these resources that could have the biggest impact as the next generation are introduced to solar as a ordinary part of life rather than a strange alternative.
Solar energy taking on global warming: it is a hard fight but solar power can win.
The fight against climate change will always be a difficult one when there are so many climate change deniers around, so many big companies keen to halt the progress of new energy options and so many people to educate; however, the examples highlighted above show that there is hope for using solar power to fight climate change. New technologies and initiatives can be passed on across the globe to more forward-thinking, greener nations and by looking at education, tough measures for big businesses and the accessibility of solar power it could be possible to make significant impacts in halting the progress of climate change and make long term impressions on populations and generations that could alter the world view in years to come.