LISMORE is leading the nation in solar power with a higher percentage of households in the 2480 postcode using rooftop solar and/or hot water systems than anywhere else in Australia, a new report says.
The report by the REC (renewable energy certificate) Agents Association also finds the NSW North Coast is leading the state with eight of the top 10 communities for solar installations sitting north of Newcastle.
The high rate of solar uptake comes despite below average incomes across the NSW top 10, fitting with a finding in the report that low-income households have been quicker to adopt solar power than high-income ones.
THE NSW SOLAR TOP 10:
- PORT MACQUARIE
- COFFS HARBOUR
- TWEED HEADS SOUTH
REC Agents vice-president Fiona O'Hehir said the information was from a study conducted by the research and advisory business Green Energy Markets using State and Federal Government data.
The managing director of solar provider Greenup Australia, located in Ballina but serving the Northern Rivers, said the statistics came as no surprise.
"I would say in my experience the study would be correct. Solar hot water is very popular, not just in Lismore, but throughout the Northern Rivers," Mal Barrett said.
He added that residents were generally turning to solar for the environmental benefits, rather than financial incentive.
"I think we're a very green region. Typically customers get solar electricity and hot water installed not because they're interested in the savings, but mainly the green environmental aspect," he said.
Lismore Shire Council general manager Gary Murphy said residents should be congratulated for their commitment to the environment and self-sustainability.
"Obviously people are doing things to reduce their power bill, but given the nature of our community it also shows our awareness of climate change and the importance of caring for our environment," he said.
"People say they want Lismore to be a leader in this area and it's excellent to see them turning their words into actions."
Mr Barrett was confident Greenup would remain busy into the future, despite the likely occurrence of solar power's gradual market saturation in the Lismore postcode.
"There is always new homes being built and the trend is to put solar hot water on," he said.
REGIONAL, LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES LEAD THE WAY
LOWER income households and those in regional communities are more likely to install solar power.
That's the finding of a detailed survey conducted by a national industry body representing firms that create and trade in renewable energy certificates.
REC Agents Association (RAA) have done an analysis of the uptake of solar panels and hot water systems by postcode and income, and found that 40% of solar installations are in rural and regional areas.
RAA's assessment of the top 10 solar suburbs in each state and territory found that in almost all cases, they had a lower income than the state average.
Managing director of Lismore's Nickel Energy, David Copperthwaite, said the findings were no real surprise to him, with about half of their installations done for what he considered to be low income households.
"People with very small power bills, on low incomes are trying to offset their power. There is a genuine fear (that electricity prices will continue to rise) and people are trying to protect their bills rather than reduce them," he said.
In the year to April 2013 Lismore was ranked number one in NSW for new solar installations, up 33% on the previous year.
Reinor Becker is a self-funded retiree and has just installed a new system on his East Lismore house.
He said power bills were "atrocious" and that the feed in tariff from the NSW government was "appalling" compared to other states. He said market forces had forced the cost of installation down to a point where it could be paid off in three to four years, which is why he had decided to go solar now.
He also said that because he was often home during the day it made good economic sense because he was using the power he was generating, rather than feeding it into the grid on the low tariff rate of six to eight cents.