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Australia leads the world with rapid small-scale adoption of solar photovoltaic (PV) encouraged by feed-in-tariffs (FiTs) and rebates. The common business model for small-scale solar PV is designed around individual installation ownership requiring an upfront capital cost from the dwelling owner and rooftop capacity. These conditions are prohibitive for low-income households and renters. The unequal household access to solar PV is occurring as the poorest households experience the most deleterious impact from a sustained period of substantive electricity price increases.
Around 1.8 million Australian households fall within the lowest income quintile. More than one third of the poorest households are renters. Poor households also spend higher proportions of income and expenditure on energy. Thus the poorest households experience greater disadvantage from electricity price increases. The significant scale of Australian household exclusion from the opportunity to reduce energy bills using solar PV raises important principles and practices of energy justice—that the poorest and most vulnerable have equitable access to energy needed for health and well-being that they can afford.
This paper presents the results of a 2018 pilot project which examined the issues influencing a low-income household’s decision-making about adopting solar energy to meet its energy needs, the primary information sources for their decision-making, and the advantages and disadvantages of current solar PV business models. Income and demographic data were mapped against solar PV installations by local government area (LGA), focus groups were conducted in the poorest LGA of Australia’s largest capital city, and solar PV business models for household uptake were analysed.
This study provides new insights into older person household attitudes to solar energy, the influence of peers and social norms on meeting household energy needs, and the legal and commercial issues inherent to existing solar PV business models. The results suggest if energy justice is to apply to all—not some—households then low-income household solar PV access needs to be reframed from being a problem to be solved by the individual household to a solution of new access options not dependent on households paying upfront costs or having roof ownership. The results also indicate the current ‘shotgun’ approach to incentives or business models will exacerbate energy injustice, different household types do not fit the generic assumption of energy policies and business models that consumer/prosumer behaviour will change with price and incentives, and local government could play a key role in improving energy justice.