Scheme To Donate Solar To The Sydney Opera House Is A Boondoggle

sydney opera house

Sydney Opera House In Sustainability Scam Shocker! Photo Credit: Finn

This morning the Australian Financial Review reported on how the Sydney Opera House and Energy Australia, and apparently even the CSIRO, are teaming up to create a solar energy trading scheme that, on the face of it, is completely useless.  But, once you think it through, it clearly makes the world a worse place.

Under the innovative scheme audience members could donate electricity produced by their solar panels at home to the Opera House by using peer-to-peer electricity trading.  The instigators of this scheme say this will increase the Opera House’s sustainability.  But the overall effect will not increase sustainability at all.

It seems to me like it is actually just a giant circle jerk1.

I will quickly explain the difference between actually reducing carbon emissions in the real world and accountancy sleight-of-hand that cons well meaning people into thinking they have helped the environment when they have not.

Real Life Environmental Benefit Vs. Lying Via Accountancy

Human beings currently use fossil fuels to generate most of their electricity.  This is bad for the environment.

Human beings also currently use accountancy to help organize many of their activities.  Accountancy is neither good nor bad, but merely a tool.  It is a very useful tool and in general greatly improves our lives, but it can definitely be abused.

An example of using accountancy in a way that is reasonable, fair, and helpful to the environment is the Australian Capital Territory’s drive towards sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Despite being almost as large as the entire country of Luxembourg, by Australian standards the ACT is actually very, very small.  Far too small to possibly contain the very best sites in the country for wind and solar power.  As a result, it is cheaper to build new renewable generating capacity outside of the ACT than in it.  So, in order to save money, the ACT government decided to build new wind and solar farms outside outside the Capital Territory and use accountancy to say the electricity generated counts towards Canberra’s total, no matter where the electrical power is actually consumed.

Regardless of what one may think of this scheme, it has resulted in money from Canberra being used to build new renewable generating capacity that wouldn’t have been built otherwise and does reduce fossil fuel generation and damage done to the environment.

Having people donate electricity from their already existing rooftop solar systems to the Opera House does not result in any new renewable generating capacity being built.  It does not result in a single extra kilowatt-hour of clean electricity being produced.  It does not reduce fossil fuel use.  It does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  It may allow someone to say Opera House sustainability has gone up in an accounting sense, but only at the cost of reducing sustainability elsewhere.  It does the world no good at all.

But the people who are asked to donate green energy will probably think they are helping.  The average person doesn’t have time to consider carbon budgets and to work out whether or not donating solar electricity to the Opera House provides any environmental benefit.  They’ll just take it for granted that they are helping.

If the Opera House wants money, they should just ask people to donate money.  The Opera House would get 100% of the donation without a parasitic loss from electricity traders taking a cut. They could then use this money to build new renewable generation which would actually help the environment.

The need to build as much renewable generation as possible is urgent. Marketing boondoggles from corporate Australia  that lull people into a false sense of ‘doing their bit’ actively harms the cause. The AFR should know better than to blindly peddle this crap2.


  1. Actually, it’s worse than that, because at least a giant circle jerk could potentially provide some pleasure to some giants
  2. And then have the audacity to put it behind a paywall
About Ronald Brakels

Joining SolarQuotes in 2015, Ronald has a knack for reading those tediously long documents put out by solar manufacturers and translating their contents into something consumers might find interesting. Master of heavily researched deep-dive blog posts, his relentless consumer advocacy has ruffled more than a few manufacturer's feathers over the years. Read Ronald's full bio.


  1. Peter Simmonds says

    Human Nature – never underestimate the absurdity of it or try to make sense of it. This scheme is like donating to charities by lottery. It’s a double buzzer. A direct donation to the SOH is a single buzzer and does not make for cool dinner party talk like this scheme will. Who are we to deny the chattering patrons a new opportunity for self gratification.

  2. Eureka I have it now……..lets rip the tiles off the Opera house and replace them with Solar cells…….killing two birds with one stone……..a power station and an entertainment centre.

    • Hi Eric, Ron has another blog going about black & white roofs which could easily be blended with this one. When you think about it this great Sydney icon is probably showing its ago and could do with a make over. Why not make a real statement – black is the new black – or rather, the original. Put the black on the roof rather than in the atmosphere. [Sadly, the new fad of light shows may be a bit difficult – black will absorb it all!! – see Ron’s other blog.]

      • Jack Wallace says

        er…..If one were going to use the Opera House wouldn’t one also have to stick the whole thing on pontoons so as to be able to swing it around to face the sun all day?

        • Efficiency was never a consideration when the Opera House was built – just look at the shape – who would ever …

  3. Jack Wallace says

    …..umm——–?? –> “Human beings currently use fossil fuels to generate most of their electricity.  This is bad for the environment.”

    As Einstein pointed out:- it’s all relative…… And that also applies to human-size egos.
    ‘The Environment’ doesn’t have any concept of ‘good’ and/or ‘bad’, and will go on forever, regardless of what we might do or not do.

  4. Got any thoughts on the SolarShare scheme starting in the ACT? It’s apparently the first of its kind ‘community funded’ solar generator in Australia.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hello Wing, Ronald here. I don’t know much about SolarShare, but I will say that because solar farms are a pretty safe investment they can obtain finance from banks reasonably cheaply and so the return from investing in a solar farm probably won’t be very high. Much higher rates of return can be obtained from rooftop solar. And because its should be easy enough to obtain money from other sources, investing in the solar farms probably won’t really result in much extra renewable generating capacity being built. So I suggest people look at their own roof first, and then maybe see what they can do with energy efficiency, and then maybe consider their relative’s roofs, or contributing to rooftop solar for charities.

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