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Renters suffer rooftop inequality

  • 14 May 2018


Here's a tale of two rooftops. In the outer suburbs lives a 'typical' family: two parents and two kids in a freestanding house with a small backyard. During the summer holidays, as the crickets chirp and magpies warble, the house reverberates with its own seasonal sounds — the sawing, hammering and drilling of home renovations.

The family starts by installing energy efficient lights and better insulation, then caps it off with some serious roof bling, a 5kW solar system facing the street. It all costs a lot upfront, but will pay for itself in years to come through much lower energy bills.

Meanwhile, in a sweatbox apartment closer to the city, lives a single mum raising a daughter. She's worried about energy prices too, but without access to her own rooftop, she has fewer options to do something about it. As a renter she can't make major improvements to the property without her landlord's permission. Even if she could, why spend thousands of dollars of her own money installing solar panels when, under current tenancy laws, she could be kicked out with just a few months' notice?

This is Australia's looming inequality issue — access to clean energy technology. Right now it's about rooftop solar and 'heat pumps' (reverse cycle air con used for efficient heating), but in years to come it will extend to home batteries, smarter appliances and electric vehicles charged at home.

Those who can take advantage of the coming energy revolution will have lower bills and more comfortable living conditions during the frequent extreme weather events we'll experience with climate change. Those who can't will be left reliant on a dirty, aging and increasingly expensive electricity grid.

This isn't a class divide based on income or education. Ten years ago, the Murdoch tabloids ran stories on inner city greenies installing solar panels with generous feed-in tariffs, subsidised by 'battlers in the 'burbs'.

Not anymore. Subsidies are no longer the selling point, and greenies no longer the main buyers. The plunging cost of the panels themselves has made rooftop solar the cheapest form of power available for just about everyone. It's now mainstream, driven by economics, not environmental concerns. In Victoria, for example, the top postcodes for solar installations are suburban growth areas like Cranbourne and Craigieburn, not the hipster enclaves of Brunswick or Fitzroy.


"The barriers to going solar are shifting from lack of finance to lack of access to roof space. Echoing