Skip navigation

ANU: Rooftop solar a game-changer for First Nations prepay customers in the Top End

Rooftop solar can reduce energy insecurity and improve wellbeing among First Nations households pre-paying for electricity in the Northern Territory.

This is according to the results of a pilot study led by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU). 

In Australia, more than 3.4 million households enjoy the benefits of rooftop solar, but for First Nations households in Australia’s remote Northern Territory that prepay for electricity, it’s a rarity.  

The trial in Tennant Creek tested the effectiveness of connecting solar energy for prepay customers.  

With assistance from Aboriginal-led charity Original Power – who funded the demonstration project – and together with Dr Simon Quilty from ANU, Warumungu elder Norman Frank-Jupurrurla and his family installed 6.6kW of solar on their government owned, council-managed home in November 2021. 

“Rooftop solar reduces the risk of energy insecurity for prepay customers by reducing the frequency of so-called ‘self-disconnections’, where electricity is discontinued due to a lack of credit,” Mr Brad Riley, from the ANU Centre for Aboriginal Policy Research, said.  

“Our paper shows that rooftop solar reduces energy costs and helps keep households connected to the grid.” 

The benefits of solar installation in the trial were significant for Frank-Jupurrurla and his family, according to co-author Dr Simon Quilty. 

“Prior to installation, Norm’s family was disconnecting 12 times a year,” Dr Quilty said. 

“Food and medicines spoilt in the heat and sleeping during frequent summer heatwaves was difficult. Through reducing energy costs and eliminating disconnections, the family report that rooftop solar has made their home safer and more enjoyable. 

“Reducing disconnections has removed a significant source of stress.” 

Frank-Jupurrurla said when it’s coming up to summer, electricity is ‘number one’.  

“Now we have solar, we get support from the sun. It gives us more money for our pocket and it’s more sustainable – we don’t worry about disconnecting anymore,” he said.  According to the study’s authors, the trial sets an important precedent by showing prepay is not a barrier to connecting solar. 

“This unique form of metering is common in many communities and is used by approximately 15,000 First Nations households across northern and central Australia. But prepay is no longer an excuse for not having connection agreements and incentives available for these customers,” Dr Quilty said.  

Mr Riley added: “In many communities where governments have responsibilities as the landlord for public housing and are also the monopoly energy provider, it is critically important to ensure that hard-pressed prepay customers can share in, rather than simply host, the benefits of a transition to clean energy.”  

“Norman is a trailblazer in showing the way.  

“Rooftop solar schemes need to be available for all Australians, not just the well-off. First Nations prepay households are among those who stand to gain the most from the transition to clean energy and Norman’s hope is that his household is just the first of many to realise these benefits.” 

The research has been published in Australian Geographer.


This article first appeared in ANU Reporter.