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Is Australia the world’s leader in solar power for homes

The Conversation checks the accuracy of assertions made on Q&A and airs . We thank all who have sent us quotes to check on Twitter with hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA. You can share your thoughts on Facebook or via email.

You might be surprised to learn that more than 15 percent of Australian households have solar panels installed on their roofs. This is the highest amount of solar panels installed on roofs per person across the entire world.

Photovoltaics (PV) technology generates electricity from solar energy directly. If you notice a solar panel on your home’s roof, it’s likely that solar PV technology is operating within those sparkling silver or black plates. (If it’s not, they’re most more likely to represent solar hot-water system panels.)

Solar PV has made an important contribution to reducing the per-capita rate of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions from the generation of electricity.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg stated to Q&A audience members that Australia has the highest number of solar panels for household use panels, per the population, than any other place in the world.

Let’s compare the claim to the evidence available.

Examining the source

If you asked for a source that would confirm his claim, an official for the minister said the issue was about solar PV systems alone (not solar hot water systems).

He referred to The Conversation to the document that was prepared from the Energy Supply Association of Australia (which has since been incorporated into the newly formed Australian Energy Council). The document stated that:

Australia has a clear lead in the use of household-size distributed solar PV. Australia has twice the residential solar PV coverage levels of its nearest nation (Belgium) as well as over three times the rate in Germany as well as Germany and the UK … In 2015, more than one in seven Australian households had installed solar PV. This was a 15% percentage of the entire spectrum of Australian households.

It is possible to test this assertion independently by using a mix of information from:

The Australian PV Institute’s databases of solar PV system smaller than 10 kilowatts that are registered in the Australian Clean Energy Regulator and

A data set for March 2015 of an data set from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) named the Household and Family Projections, Australia.

Be aware that the Kilowatt (kW) capacity in this case refers to the power output of the PV unit and is the highest power (Watts) that the system can generate during the day.

The typical PV panels are measured at about 250W (0.25kW). A typical PV system for residential use in Australia can be found in the range of 1.5-5kW, which is six to 20 panels. For a comparison, the typical air conditioner consumes about 1-2 kW when it is operating.

In order to calculate our figure we believed that all systems with smaller than 10kW are installed in homes (although there are, in reality, there are a few installed on smaller businesses and community structures like schools and surf clubs).

Here’s what the data reveal:

So, Frydenberg is likely to have slightly underestimated the percentage of Australian households that have PV systems. It’s not 15percent – it’s closer to 16.5 percent, as per the most recent figures.

PV systems aren’t evenly spread across the residential sector of Australia as shown by evidenced by the Australian PV Institute’s current PV maps illustrates:

PV installation based on postcode. Notice that the percentages shown in the map are greater than the 16.5 percent figure, because the proportion of homes with PV systems displayed on the map is calculated by comparing the number semi-detatched and freestanding homes from the census of 2011 with the amount of PV systems for residential use in each location (rather than making use of a figure that includes all dwellings, which is scaled to match the projected growth of population). Australian PV Institute (APVI) Solar Map, funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, was available at on March 23, 2016.

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Jane S. King

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