From Humble Beginnings - Part 1
by Diana Gosper
The 80's in Nimbin saw the hippies not only protest for climate action and protect some of our most precious old growth rainforest, but the region also saw new technologies pioneered, and in the solar and renewable energy sector, Rainbow Power Company founders Peter van der Wik (alias Peter Pedals), Dave Christmas and Jack Von Hest were leaders in their field, setting about bringing affordable renewable energy to the fore (out of their car at the Channon market to start with) and spearheading the solar revolution "there has never been a greater need for society to change the way they manage generate and consume energy" (Peter Pedals).
Already with a name and a logo in mind, in 1987 Rainbow Power Company was formed. With $90, some solar know-how and a passion for the environment, simple rechargeable torches soon gave way to complex integrated off grid and hybrid power systems, and the local customer base soon extended to the whole of Australia and the South Pacific. Solar at the time cost around $10 per watt, and now it is as low as 50 cents, and the technology is ever changing and improving.
Solar has steadily been becoming a more mainstream option for people; as far back as '97 BP Solar were opening the world's biggest solar manufacturing plant. That same year president Clinton launched a solar initiative to have solar installed on 1,000,000 US homes. These arguably aren’t true environmental idealists, but the figures are impressive nonetheless; where once going off grid was the domain of ferals and hippies, a cheaper if often rudimentary alternative for the drop outs of society, it was fast becoming thought of as a responsible step towards future energy creation and storage.
20 years ago the Australian Greenhouse Office 75% rebate was introduced, which along with lowered prices and increased battery storage capacities, saw a big national push, as people also became more aware of climate change and our national and individual carbon footprint.
Back then, RPC customers were stoked to just be able to run a light! Now aircon is not unusual and whole houses (indeed massive businesses) are run without compromise on the electrical devices connected or the overall quality of life. Generators kick in when needed and it is a seamless transition from solar to backup generator (or grid). Bake your bread, curl your hair, dehydrate your fruit, charge your car- whatever you want.
These days a lot of people in town get solar and feed back into the grid, they use a grid tie inverter that converts direct current (DC) into an alternating current (AC) suitable for inputting into a power grid. This is reasonably or relatively new technology and has bolstered the uptake of household solar.
Mod cons like toasters, kettles, pool pumps, air con, hair-dryers and the like, are no longer unusual for solar powered homes, and a solar powered house is no longer a hippie shack in the bush- for better or for worse.
"We were one of the first few solar companies in Australia and I used to be regarded as an extremist greenie who shouldn't be taken seriously, but now my views have become mainstream- although they haven't actually changed," said Peter Pedals in 2010.
In 2005 Time magazine stated that solar panel costs had fallen 66% from the previous decade, and with the price of oil at US$70 a barrel at the time, the demand for Solar on the world market increased substantially; Analysts at the time estimated that a further 50% reduction would make solar powered electricity costs comparable with other types of fuel within the following decade. If oil and gas prices continued to increase (which they did), the cost parity would come a lot sooner (which it has).
Reports such as this one from the Scientific American (21 Feb 2008) helped to further highlight the need for solar uptake:
"PV power would cut air pollution, including the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, by nearly 90 percent if it replaced fossil fuels”.
Australia, with our great expanses of land and plentiful sunshine, could (and should!) be leading the way with PV solar production. DC from RPC said back in 2010 that an array of 120km x 120km would provide enough solar PV energy to power the whole world, it would take less than that now with the new and improved panels that are available (and that RPC use).