It's not just Porsches and Prada shoes that are the objects of conspicuous consumerism. Solar power panels on your room can also speak volumes about your finances and your green credentials.
Chunbo Ma, in the School of Agricultural and Resource Economics, is looking at how we can make better use of Australia's world class solar power resources without wasting government money.
Studies in the US have shown that conspicuous consumerism applies to photovoltaic (PV) panels. "In California, some residents insist on installing their panels on the roof facing the street, even if it's in permanent shade, so that people can see they have them!" he said.
In Perth, the highest numbers of PV panels were found to be in areas like Mandurah and the northern suburbs, with the highest percentage of PV panels in a Perth suburb at about 15 per cent.
"Even when the subsidy was reduced, people still bought and installed PV panels. I think the Government underestimated people's support for renewable energy."
Professor Ma said the University subscribed to Nearmap, an online service provided by a local company which flies over Perth and supplies high resolution aerial photographs. "These photographs have allowed us to see the cluster effect of PV panels. While government subsidies were important to begin with, I think the peer effect is also a crucial driving force. When your neighbour gets PV panels on the roof, you chat about it and it gives you confidence to do the same, just as with any appliance. And you see local clusters developing over time."
He said people usually looked at the initial cost of installation, then calculated their savings on power bills before installing PV panels. "But what is often ignored is the premium it adds to your property. We estimate a three to five per cent premium, all other things being equal."
"We need to verify this but I think it's something that real estate agents could use as a selling point and it could also mean the scheme needs less government support."
Professor Ma has an ARC grant of $372,000 over three years and hopes that his outcome will be useful for the energy industry and the government for formulating business strategies and policies.
Condensed from ‘Being Seen to be Green', UWAnews June 2013 with permission from Public Affairs.