When people hear “Tasmania,” the first thing that comes to mind is generally a wild, spinning cartoon animal that spits a lot and wants to eat Bugs Bunny. These days, though, the isolated island state that is actually part of Australia is becoming known for its growing leadership in the solar energy space.
The proliferation of solar power Down Under has been well documented, with more than 1.5 million households in the country sporting solar power systems on their roofs. But that could end up paling in comparison to the plans officials have for Tasmania.
One of the major functions of the personal solar power space has been for users to send excess energy back to the electric grid when it’s not needed in the home. This energy has been purchased by utilities at an agreed-upon price, usually offsetting any costs the homeowner might see on less productive days.
In Tasmania, however, a new project will provide 40 homes with the ability to not only capture energy from the sun but to store it in improved battery systems. This will allow the homeowners to maintain a store of energy or to sell it off at a market price.
The project is being tested in one island community that is connected to the grid by one cable. The hope is that the residents will be able to make the island self-sufficient and to allow it to use the hard-wired grid only as a last resort.
“The idea is to manage the system, keep prices low, ensure everyone has power when they need it, and allow greater penetration of renewables,” said a spokesperson for the project.
Full Speed Ahead
This project is part of a concerted effort on the part of the Tasmanian leadership to make the state the most solar-friendly in the world. And, as is seen in the island’s test project, a big part of the push is to move beyond collection to solar storage.
A program being pushed by lawmakers would subsidize up to half of users’ costs for installing a battery storage system to connect with their solar energy systems.
“The Greens battery storage policy will support the 26,529 Tasmanian households that already have solar capacity installed and encourage thousands more to shift to battery storage,” Senator Nick McKim said.
“Tasmanian households could gain over $54 million in support for battery storage.”
Getting a Fair Price
If these programs are successful and take off, it remains to be seen what kind of financial benefit there will be to the homeowners of Tasmania. Because these programs are shifting the fundamental understanding of the benefits of solar power, there is likely to be an adjustment period for costs.
In the past, and for most U.S. households, the benefits of solar have been expressed in terms of cost recovery, bill discounts and tax credits. The idea that installing a solar array could be profitable for a homeowner is a new concept.
With that in mind, a recent study of the prices Tasmanians are receiving for the energy they are selling shows that there is a lot of room for growth in this new marketplace. The study showed that the cost of producing one kilowatt hour of energy from solar was half as much as energy created via other means.
In the end, it may be this little island state that flips the energy industry on its head — much like the Tasmanian Devil spinning his way through a cartoon cement wall.
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