The City of Bunbury has forged an environmentally-friendly path for other local governments to follow with the biggest installation of solar panels in the southern hemisphere on the roof of the South West Sports Centre.

The state-of-the-art solar panels were installed at the centre in May this year and by the end of August had already saved $19,000 and 1106 gJ off the gas bill.

Aquatics operations manager Richard Duke said an energy audit in 2009 revealed that it was time to look at alternative ways of heating the indoor pools to save money and reduce the centre’s carbon footprint.

Further research showed that evacuated glass tubing was the most efficient and cost-effective option.

The Royalties for Regions funded project saw 240 solar panels, the equivalent of 7200 tubes, installed on the roof of the sports centre.

The tube design of the panels means the sun’s energy can be harnessed throughout the day and even on an overcast day, the panels will make use of UV light.

The panels are up to 80 per cent more efficient than flat plate solar collectors which are more commonly used in Australia.

Mr Duke said Bunbury’s success story had sparked the interest of metropolitan sports centres.

“We have had a lot of interest from professionals in the metro area looking at different ways of doing this, partly because they have large centres and roof space like us,” Mr Duke said.

“In the summer it’s going to generate a lot more heat than the swimming pools can take so that will leave us with excess energy and the idea is we will be able to extend it to the showers, spa and boiling system.”

WA Greens leader Giz Watson attended the official launch of the solar panels last Friday where dignitaries were invited to climb onto the roof of the centre and check out the installation.

“It’s a good news story and a real win-win, it’s good for the environment and good for the ratepayers of Bunbury who don’t have to fork out to heat the pool anymore,” Ms Watson said.

“It would be good to see similar initiatives throughout the South West, there’s lots of other towns with pools that could benefit from this system.”

“The reason there is a price on carbon is to drive innovation like this, there has to be an economic incentive otherwise we will just keep going the way we always have.”