Consumers need to be vigilant on solar power deals: report

The report, Retail Offers and Market Transparency for New Solar Customers, found there was a lack of detailed information for solar customers, creating the potential for people to be ripped off.

It also found there were enormous differences in retail companies’ offers for household solar electricity.

In some states there was only a small financial difference between the worst retail offers for solar households and the best retail deals for non-solar households.

And public focus on feed-in tariffs obscured the fact that retailers determined all aspects of retail solar deals and that other factors, besides the feed-in tariff rate, may have a bigger financial impact on the overall economics of a household solar installation.

The report analysed all aspects of various retail offers to new solar customers and what effects they would have on annual power bills. It covered South Australia, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Damien Moyse, the ATA’s energy projects and policy manager, said there needed to be greater scrutiny of electricity retailers’ solar offers and greater transparency so that consumers could make more informed decisions.

“There’s been a lot of attention and publicity about feed-in tariffs for solar, but very little about retail consumption tariffs and other aspects of retail deals, including where retailers take away pay-on-time discounts when someone installs solar,” Mr Moyse said.

“Solar customers could be losing out badly depending on what deal they have signed for the electricity they produce.

Mr Moyse said it was crucial that people thinking of having solar panels installed on their roof shopped around for the best deal, and understood in full how their retail electricity offer could change when installing solar.

“Existing and potential solar customers should check relevant tariff comparator websites in each state, which compare different retail offers, and ask retailers lots of questions about exactly what is and isn’t included with their retail solar deals.”

Retail Offers and Market Transparency for New Solar Customers is available by clicking here.

Tariff comparator website for SA and NSW solar consumers:

Tariff comparator website for Victorian solar consumers:

Tariff comparator website for Queensland solar consumers:

A green building and lifestyle seminar in Adelaide

Join an expert panel hosted by ABC Gardening Australia’s Sophie Thomson as they discuss a range of green building and sustainable lifestyle topics. Leading sustainability experts include:

  • Paul Downton: Sustainable house design and building materials
  • Stephen Jenkins: Solar electricity and hot water
  • Chris Day and Bridgett Toner: Basics of permaculture, backyard veggie gardening and keeping chooks.

Sophie Thomson is the South Australian (SA) presenter on ABC Gardening Australia and the patron of the SA chapter of Sustainable Gardening Australia.

The seminar will be followed by a Q & A session with the presenters and the day will start with the showing of a documentary film: Biophilic Singapore

When: Saturday 24 August 2013

Time: Biophilic Singapore documentary 10–11am; Sustainability Seminar 11am–12:30pm

Where: Marion Cultural Centre, 287 Diagonal Rd, Oaklands Park SA

Sponsored by the City of Marion. More information can be found on their website.

Treehouse retreat

When they walk people through the Tallowoo Treehouse, building designer Rob Norman and interior designer Sally Stent show people through a house with a difference.

Homeowner Heike has happily opened her doors on Sustainable House Day to other homeowners interested in sustainable design. “I wanted to show my house so people could see that you can have a sustainable house that can be really stylish – you do not have to compromise anything,” she says.

Named after a lovely tallowood growing on the block, the treehouse is a spectacular home. The living spaces and verandahs look out over canopies of leafy Queensland gum trees.

Good design has ensured the house uses very little energy. It’s toasty warm in winter due to appropriate window placement and internal thermal mass and cool in summer, needing only ceiling fans to help move air around on still days. Other sustainable design features include rainwater tanks providing all house water, recycled hardwood telegraph pole floors, 60 per cent recycled slurry bathroom tiles, a 1.5 kilowatt solar power system, a solar hot water system, and a resource monitoring system tracking energy and water use.

Heike has no idea how many people have seen her home but knows that many have learnt from it. She recognises her ideas in other homes as friends ask ‘do you recognise that?’ and point out Heike-inspired features in their own homes. Contact details for tradespeople have also been passed around; a local furniture maker has had plenty of jobs as a result of people seeing his work there.

“It’s so simple to [build a sustainable home],” says Heike. “It’s not even rocket science – why don’t we all do it?”

Heike sees her home as a retreat with functional spaces and an atmosphere of wellness. There are nooks and crannies that make it cosy and indoor spaces have a real connection with nature. When you stand in the shower it’s like you are outside. “The living room and verandah open up and become one big space and the trees are right there.”

See Sanctuary 15 for a full feature on this project.

Australia wins gold for net-zero energy home

Team UOW Australia, a partnership between the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra, has been announced as the winner ahead of 19 other entries from around the globe.

The net-zero energy home, called the Illawarra Flame, has been designed and built by students and constructed from the ground up at the competition site in Datong, China.

Giving it the winning edge, Team UOW Australia’s entry was the first house in Solar Decathlon history to demonstrate a retrofit of an existing home. Modelled on a 1960s Aussie fibro house floor plan, the Illawarra Flame house shows how to make existing houses energy efficient and comfortable to live in.

Team UOW transformed the contents of their seven shipping containers into a beautiful, modern and technologically advanced home in just 12 days. This was the culmination of two years of planning and design, three months of initial construction and a six-week journey across the Pacific Ocean.


The Illawarra Flame was awarded 957.6 out of a possible 1000 points. It also received:

• First place in engineering

• First place in architecture

• First place in solar application

• Second place in communications

• Second place in market appeal

• First place in energy balance

• First place in hot water

• Second place in appliances.

It is estimated that over 300,000 people will have visited the Solar Decathlon China, making it the biggest in Solar Decathlon in history.

“The energy here in Datong has been electric,” said Dianne Murray, Director of TAFE Illawarra.

“I am so proud of the tremendous effort that our students have put in over the past two years. From the initial planning, through detailed design, and then finally the construction of our house in both Wollongong and China, I cannot describe how much it means for the team to be awarded first place in the Solar Decathlon China 2013,” said Professor Paul Cooper, the Team UOW Faculty Advisor and Director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at the University of Wollongong.

Read our article about the Illawarra Flame’s innovative garden design in Sanctuary 24. Find more info on the Illawarra Flame on the team’s website.


Speed Date a Sustainability Expert Adelaide

South Australia’s leading green home designers and experts will provide free advice to the public at Speed Date a Sustainability Expert, in the City of Marion on August 24.

Speed Date a Sustainability Expert Adelaide is the fourth in a series of events from Sanctuary’s publisher the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), linking homeowners to Australia’s leading sustainable design and living experts around the country.

After successful ‘Speed Date a Sustainable Designer’ events in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, the Adelaide event will help householders whether they are renovating or building a new home sustainably, or simply seeking advice on solar power, energy efficient products, permaculture or greywater.

At the Adelaide event, seminars and Q&A sessions on sustainability topics will be followed by Speed Dating – 13-minute ‘dates’ where people will be able to talk about their plans and ideas directly with the experts. The event is being held by the City of Marion in conjunction with the ATA as part of the Marion Learning Festival.

Adelaide event details

When: Saturday 24 August 2013

Where: Marion Cultural Centre, 287 Diagonal Rd, Oaklands Park

This free Adelaide event is being held by the City of Marion in conjunction with the Alternative Technology Association. For more information and to register, visit 

Find a directory of the sustainability experts involved in the Adelaide event in Sanctuary 24. If you’re looking for an expert in another state, check out the Sanctuary Sustainable Design Directory for experts in your area.

Image: Nick Stephenson

Zero carbon homes in 10 years

Under the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan, the residential sector reduces it annual energy usage by 53 per cent by retrofitting and upgrading existing buildings using existing, commercial off-the-shelf technologies.

Coupled with the installation of solar power systems, energy reduction measures and technologies include full insulation retrofits, draught proofing, efficient window glazing, shading, and electric heat pumps for heating and hot water. Other energy reduction measures include replacing all lights with LEDs, cooking with induction cooktops and installing in-home energy monitoring displays.

Buildings going gas free is a key element of the plan, which has been produced jointly by climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions and The University of Melbourne’s Energy Institute.

Their research found gas appliances to be inefficient and polluting compared to modern electric appliances which can replace them, particularly heat pumps (which are more commonly known as split-system air-conditioners).

As well as the efficiency and emissions issues associated with gas, the Alternative Technology Association’s Energy Policy team are also looking at the cost impacts of gas in the context of expected future domestic gas price increases as the Australian gas export market expands.

“Replacing old gas space and water heating with efficient electric [heating] is already the most cost effective option in the long term,” said ATA’s Energy Policy Advocate Craig Memery.

He said the only appliance gas remains the cheaper option for (over the life cycle) is stovetop cooking, because the upfront cost of the electric equivalent (induction) is higher once the cost of electrical upgrades and new cookware are factored in.

Despite this, he said switching from dual fuel to all electric is the best option for those that can afford the upfront cost.

“Economically, this plan is a good news story,” said the Building Plan’s lead author Trent Hawkins. “Today Australian households spend $15 billion per year on electricity and gas bills. Our modelling shows that this plan could save up to $40 billion over the next 30 years, compared to business as usual.”

The plan can be found on Beyond Zero Emissions’ website

You can also buy the plan from the ATA webshop