A place in the sun: removing solar barriers for renters

Photo: Andre Nery/stock.adobe.com
26 May 2023

By Jessica Fagan

A major rethink is needed to help more Australian renters benefit from rooftop solar, according to research from The Australian National University (ANU).

According to Dr Lee White, rental properties – and their tenants – have been largely excluded from the household energy transition.

“Rental properties are considerably less likely to have rooftop solar,” Dr White said.

“The focus has been on reducing the upfront costs. While this is important, our study uncovered another equally significant barrier – property investors don’t believe renters will be willing to pay higher rent for solar.”

The researchers surveyed 931 property investors to understand barriers and preferred policy options.

“This concern that investing in solar won’t yield sufficient returns runs contrary to previous studies showing Australian tenants are willing to pay for more liveable homes and solar,” Dr White said.

The results suggest that incentives focusing purely on upfront costs through low interest loans or subsidies will be effective only for a small proportion of property investors.

Of the property investors surveyed, the majority preferred to pay costs upfront rather than use interest free loans.

Study co-author Dr Bjorn Sturmberg said helping property managers to better understand the value of solar and energy efficiency is one alternative worth exploring.

“Property managers are a critical part of the rental system and offer great leverage, but they are currently not trained or incentivised to drive liveability upgrades,” he said.

“It would also be great to see policymakers incentivise monitoring and disclosure of solar system performance as part of rental property advertisement, so that the benefits are clear for the rental market.”

The study’s authors believe the recent budget commitments outlined in the federal government are a step in the right direction.

“The government's commitment of dedicated resources to social housing and rental properties are especially important,” co-author Mara Hammerle, ANU PhD candidate and Economic Advisor at the Centre for Policy Development, said.

“It recognises that the most vulnerable have been excluded from the benefits of rooftop solar and energy efficiency.”

The study has been published in Energy Policy.

This article was first published at ANU Reporter