OPINION: Time for solar power?

WITH recent advancements in solar power storage and what appears to be a shifting focus for some of Australia's biggest energy retailers, it's looking increasingly as though the bell is tolling for traditional coal power.

Advocates of coal power generation have long argued that renewables - wind and solar - are not capable of generating the baseload power needed to reliably supply entire communities.

There has never been any effective argument against this, with the push on to develop high-yield renewables that could compete with coal or nuclear, such as hot rocks or melted salt.

However, new consumer-grade power storage technologies may be making even that redundant, shifting the focus back to the humble rooftop solar panels.

Those new batteries mean homes with solar panels can store up power generated through the day to power homes during peak periods at night.

Whether that would provide enough power to allow a family to break free of the grid entirely remains questionable, but, either way, it's a big step in that direction and the enthusiasm among consumers to escape their quarterly power bills seems strong.

Around half the participants in a recent Morgan Stanley survey said they would be interested in splashing out $10,000 on a solar power and storage system that would take a full decade to pay for itself.

At the same time, energy company AGL is forecasting the market for domestic solar panels could be worth about $2 billion by 2030.

Now those same companies that were only a few months ago pushing for the Commonwealth to dump its renewable energy target are starting to offer their own rooftop solar and storage packages, with one going so far as to take a leaf from the telcos' book and offering long-term solar installation contracts with no up-front cost.

One way or another, the way we look at, use and access energy is changing and those changes point to a world beyond coal.

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