For hundreds of low-income households across Victoria, this government-backed scheme is helping them get on the solar ladder and reclaim their energy independence.
“I switched for many reasons,” says Martin Buekers of his recent adoption of solar power. “Some are economic, some are altruistic – in terms of wanting what’s best for the community and the world – and some are that I’m simply sick of being stuffed around by [power companies]. About equal parts of each, I’d say.”
For Martin, who lives in Black Hill, Victoria, the prospect of increased independence from the grid, and traditional energy companies, is a huge benefit of his switch to solar. And it’s a switch that couldn’t have happened without a little help from an innovative community initiative.
That initiative is called Solar Savers, a Victorian Government-funded project that aims to get solar panels on the roofs of as many low-income Victorians as possible. The project’s specialty – if you will – is pensioners, a demographic Martin, at 71, finds himself in. “I’m on a part-age pension,” he says. “I have some self-funding but I qualified for the little blue card that gets you all the goodies, which included the Solar Savers scheme.”
The project kicked off in May 2017 and will conclude in June 2019, having installed hundreds of systems throughout 23 participating councils in the process. The installations help protect individuals from future electricity price hikes (Martin likes this bit) and decrease the overall dependence on fossil fuels throughout the state.
A huge part of the Solar Savers manifesto is to make it easier for low-income households to overcome the typical barriers associated with accessing solar. “These barriers are particularly prevalent within vulnerable sections of the community as they face barriers in financing the upfront cost of solar, the complexity of solar information and finding a safe and reputable solar installer,” says Anna Imberger, Maroondah City Council’s program leader for sustainable energy and Solar Savers program leader. “The project has the potential to deliver immediate net savings of around $100 per year on electricity costs for large numbers of low-income households.”
Bank Australia provides low-interest loans for Solar Savers participants, which enable people like Martin to access solar energy without breaking the bank. “I’ve got a $5000 loan with Bank Australia,” says Martin. “I think it’s about a 4.7% interest rate, which is absolutely amazing. I could pay it off tomorrow if I wanted to, but I appreciate the financial liquidity. And as soon as it’s all paid off, I’m streets ahead. I’m extremely happy with it.”
Martin, who was displeased by the way power was being generated in Australia and the companies that control it, had been considering solar power for some time. But it wasn’t until he discovered Solar Savers that the switch made sense from a financial perspective. “This was a way to get onto the ‘ladder’ if you like, at an unusually cheap cost,” he says. “And every kilowatt hour I don’t buy from the electricity company is a measure of independence for me.”
Martin’s solar system was installed by iEnergyTech, on behalf of Solar Savers, in June 2018. “There was a bit of scoping out and sizing up, then eventually two men came around and put panels on my roof,” says Martin.
It’s a move that’s made him even more aware of the benefits of solar, and even more interested in scaling the solar ladder in the years to come. “If I could afford it, and hopefully one day I will, I’ll install a battery as well and try and only use the power from the sun.”