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The power of some - communities band together for solar power

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A solar sensation is sweeping the suburbs.

The concept is simple - buy in bulk and install in bulk. Rally fifty or so households in a geographic area commit to installing a 1kW photovoltaic panel system.

Solar suburbs, or solar communities, have started popping up around Australia, with the first ones getting a head start a couple of years ago. Local councils and community groups have also got on board, as have commercial programs.

The panels are ordered in bulk to reduce shipping costs and installed in houses in close proximity to reduce labour costs. The homeowner takes advantage of the Federal Government's $8,000 rebate and a $12,000 system suddenly becomes far more affordable at less than $2,000.

There are now 1,000 accredited solar panel installers in Australia; and, while those operating community bulk purchasing programs are in the minority, it is certainly an emerging trend. With the rebate about to end on June 30, 2009, solar neighbourhoods are springing up in several states.

Melbourne-based solar company Rezeko is helping to establishing solar neighbourhoods in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, ACT and Tasmania. CEO Erik Zimmerman says there are now well over 100 solar communities in Victoria alone.

"The market itself has grown enormously and (bulk buying) has certainly grown in popularity, mostly in the last 12 months," he says.

According to the Federal Government, there has been a significant increase in small-scale solar installations from 365 rebate applications each week at the last Federal Budget to an average of 1,300 applications each week. In the past week alone, 4,000 applications were made.

The Department of Environment's Solar Homes and Communities Plan has received so many applications it is unable to process them in the six-week time frame. Additional staff has been hired to manage the increased demand.

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