Why we can’t afford not to electrify?

Rosemary Grundy added solar panels, batteries and 2 EVs to her new home build and has calculated she’ll break even in 8.6 years. In this background article she explains the true cost of taking action, and inaction.

In the 1990’s there was a push for enterprises to adopt the concept of the ‘triple bottom line’.  The idea was to expand Profit & Loss reports all over the world beyond the hermetically sealed Assets and Liabilities recognised by standard accounting.

This would be done by expanding the scope of the profitability equation to include the social cost of the enterprise’s activities and importantly, the environmental cost.  

Had this been done with conviction and accuracy, factoring the true costs of fossil fuels into any fossil fuel reliant industry would have rendered them unprofitable. Consequently, this initiative was quietly abandoned.

Fast forward to 2023. The climate crisis is upon us, but for financial and ownership reasons, many Australians are not able to install a solar power system, home battery or buy an EV.  Much of the public discourse has been sensitive to this reality and consequently has focused on government and corporate supplied solutions.

However, the subtext that emanates from the public discourse is that no one can afford to take these steps and we should all wait for the government to subsidise us or build grid level renewable power.  

But as Raghu Belur, Chief Product Officer for Enphase, told the SwitchedOn podcast, “private homes need to be the focus of the renewable power system.”  

And as Ben Roche, from Southern Cross University, who is working on a Circular Economy project in the Northern Rivers of NSW, said on Radio National’s Future Tense, “if we are really going to respond to these (climate) issues we cannot wait for Government.”  

This position is echoed by Cathy McGowan, the former independent federal Member for Indi, who told ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas, “look to your privilege… become active in the climate debate… (don’t) leave it to the government.  It’s not going to happen if we leave it to the government.”

The expectation that grid level renewables are the ideal configuration for a post fossil fuel Australia is also not practical. As Gabrielle Kuiper, an independent Distributed Energy Resources expert, consultant to the Super Power Institute and a founding member of the Energy Security Board, said on Solar insiders, “if you can get the batteries and the flexible storage behind the meter then you can soak up the solar in the day …and yield a 92% reduction in that peak (grid) demand”.  

It would be great if government would in some way assist with the capital cost of expanding the Distributed Energy Resources in the residential sector, but the urgency of the climate crisis is now such that private homeowners with the capacity must step up and meet the need for non-grid renewable energy.

 

Who CAN make the move?

An estimated 20% of Australia’s CO2 emissions are from the residential sector. This means that the residential sector represents some ‘low hanging fruit’ for cutting carbon emissions.  

Census data from 2021 found that 66% of homes are either owned-with-a-mortgage (35%)or owned outright (31%). These statistics do not mean that all homeowners have access to cash to fund their energy transition, but they do suggest many of us might.  

A feature of the current discourse dissuading people from taking a major step away from using fossil fuels, is the prevalence of discussions about the cost of the transition.  This falls into the error of misrepresenting the true cost of inaction.  

The ‘Do Nothing’ option is neither cost neutral nor cheap.  But the true cost of doing nothing is simply not factored into most discussions: namely the actual cost to human and other life on the planet.  We need to stop asking if it will save me money and ask if the planet can afford any further delay in cutting CO2 emissions.

Conversely the ‘Do Something’ option is criticised on the grounds that each individual action is a mere drop in the ocean. However, in society there is an unappreciated impact of a small few taking the first steps which lead to the wider adoption of new practices and technologies, and which eventually drags the government and corporations along.

The ‘wait for the government’ position is putting the cart before the horse.  Continuing to frame the residential transition to renewables as completely unaffordable for everyone everywhere undermines the point made by the former Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney and now consultant to the World Bank on sustainable urban development, Jess Scully, that “we need to convert everything everywhere all at once [to renewables].”

I decided not to wait. Two years ago I invested in solar panels, batteries and 2 electric vehicles, and have calculated that I will break-even on this investment in 8.6 years.

 

Rosemary Grundy is a systems analyst living on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. You can read how she calculated a break even analysis for her new home build here.

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Rosemary Grundy
October 9, 2023
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