February 19, 2008 (Sydney Morning Herald)- The Sun King has had a vision, but the NSW Government has its own ideas. Zhengrong Shi, the Australian-trained solar energy scientist who has in seven years gone from an academic position at the University of NSW to become the richest person in mainland China, yesterday called on the Government to intervene in the state’s energy market and subsidise solar panels on houses.
Dr Shi urged the Premier, Morris Iemma, to adopt a system of “feed-in tariffs”, in which people who generate solar energy at home can sell it back to the state grid at more than the market rate. Variations of the system work successfully in most European nations, Canada, Japan and China, leading to large increases in the number of people using solar power.
“We want to see them do that, and I think they need to do that soon,” Dr Shi told the Herald. “It is the way to develop the industry to the level it needs to be at.”
The South Australian Government announced yesterday that it would be following Dr Shi’s advice, and introducing feed-in tariffs from July 1, but NSW will not be joining in.
A spokesman for the Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, said NSW was not considering feed-in tariffs.
“Instead, NSW is seeking national consistency on this matter. For the same reasons we strongly support a single expanded renewable energy target rather than separate state-based schemes, thereby providing the lowest cost to consumers and reducing compliance costs to industry while achieving the same environmental outcomes.”
The legislation passed in the South Australian Parliament yesterday covers small businesses, schools and churches, as well as private homes, all of which will soon be able to sell energy back to the grid at twice the market rate.
The South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, also committed to making his government completely carbon neutral by 2020, by a combination of energy savings, renewable power generation and the purchase of carbon offsets.
The state’s gas and electricity retailers would also be forced to offer customers partial rebates for getting their homes insulated and draught-proofed, and for using more efficient appliances.
“We’ve got less than 8 per cent of Australia’s population but we have about 50 per cent of the nation’s wind power and nearly 50 per cent of the nation’s solar power,” Mr Rann said.
He is hosting the third International Solar Cities Congress, a meeting of experts on renewable energy and climate change, which concludes tomorrow.
A national feed-in tariff system in Australia would mean up to 1 million homes becoming self-sufficient in energy by 2015 – and it would likely reap further healthy profits for Dr Shi’s Suntech Holdings, which dominates the solar market in China.
The call for feed-in tariffs was backed by green groups, which said a national tariff would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4 million tonnes each year, stimulate jobs growth and enhance local industry.