Jeremy Rich of Energy Matters.

Jeremy Rich of Energy Matters. Photo: Jesse Marlow

THE head of one of Australia's most successful solar start-ups admits negative perceptions are preventing the renewable energy industry fulfilling its potential, and that more consistency from governments would encourage people to embrace greener energy.

Energy Matters chief executive Jeremy Rich believes there is no reason Australia cannot one day attain a near-100 per cent commitment to solar energy, domestically and commercially, thanks to the sunny climate and industry expertise.

But Mr Rich's admission that ''people aren't convinced'' of the benefits of solar power was a reason so few Australians had embraced photovoltaic panels as an energy source.

About one in 10 of the nation's houses uses solar power while in Victoria the commitment level lags about 5 per cent.

Mr Rich and three friends founded Energy Matters while discussing solar energy around a kitchen table and within five years had a $30 million turnover.

But, Mr Rich conceded, the solar industry was plagued by a perception it was expensive compared with grid-based power. He was adamant installation costs were dropping and would continue to do so beyond July 1, when the carbon tax comes into effect.

''I think there's a perception and a misunderstanding out there - whether that's because of the media I'm not sure - but it's a bit of a shame because people could be offsetting these costs,'' he said.

''They've got the ability to do so. We've got low costs, it's a sunny continent and it's a great place for solar, really.''

Mr Rich said Australia risked losing ground to China, Japan, the United States and Italy - countries committed to large solar projects - unless common perceptions changed and governments encouraged people to embrace the technology.

Energy Matters is now focusing on installing commercial solar power systems in businesses and factories, an area Mr Rich said was ''untapped'' here.

Mr Rich called on the federal government to adopt a uniform policy on feed-in tariff schemes to encourage people to consider renewable energy. Several states have dropped or reduced schemes amid claims that solar was an expensive way to lower greenhouse emissions.

''The issue with the instability of the government's policies does affect the cost of capital, so it does push up the cost of large-scale commercial projects,'' he said.

''I think stable, consistent policy is very important - and that's the case for any industry - and by looking at an economically justified, low-cost feed-in tariff system is the way the government can get stability because it's providing benefit to the community. It's not costing anyone anything, it's sustainable.

''That's the kind of policy you can get with solar power, which is fantastic, so they're the kind of things the government should be looking at.''

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