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New figures from the Australian PV Institute have shown that Australia installed an impressive 1.3 gigawatts (GW) worth of solar PV in 2017, a record for the country and a prelude to what many are expecting will be a 2018 to eclipse all previous years.

Clean Power

Australia On Track To Eclipse Solar Records In 2018 After 1.3 Gigawatt 2017

New figures from the Australian PV Institute have shown that Australia installed an impressive 1.3 gigawatts (GW) worth of solar PV in 2017, a record for the country and a prelude to what many are expecting will be a 2018 to eclipse all previous years.

New figures from the Australian PV Institute have shown that Australia installed an impressive 1.3 gigawatts (GW) worth of solar PV in 2017, a record for the country and a prelude to what many are expecting will be a 2018 to eclipse all previous years.

The Australian renewable energy story is really a tale of two cities — a Federal Government seemingly preternaturally opposed to anything that might threaten its coal interests, against huge State-level and commercial interest in renewable energy sources, primarily of the solar PV variety. As the Australian PV Institute (APVI) explains, Australia can currently boast the highest per-capita number of solar PV installations in the world, with 20% of households home to one of the 1.8 million solar PV systems — of which 160,000 were added in 2017 alone.

By the end of 2017, cumulative installed solar PV capacity had climbed to 7.5 GW thanks to an added 1.3 GW installed through 2017. Solar PV thus accounted for 13% of national electricity generation capacity and 3.9% of electrical energy generation.

Solar PV in Australia seems to step from strength to strength, as the average system size grew steadily, panel prices continued to decline, and system prices reached record lows.

The recent strength of the Australian solar industry is further highlighted by the fact that residential installed capacity was declining year-on-year between 2012 and 2016, stabilizing at 541 megawatts (MW) before growing 44% in 2017 to 779 MW. The country’s small-commercial segment (accounting for system sizes between 10 to 100 kilowatts (kW) grew by 60% to reach 331 MW in 2017, while the large commercial and industrial sized systems (utility-scale systems ranging between 100 kW and 5,000 kW) grew by a whopping 123% to a record 76 MW — which only shows the available opportunity to grow further.

While 2017 was a blockbuster year for the Australian solar industry, many analysts are expecting 2018 to be an even bigger year, eclipsing 2017’s records. According to the Australian PV Institute, there is currently 1.9 GW worth of solar currently under construction in Australia and a further 35 GW at various stages of development. Already, according to the APVI, the sub-100kW sector has installed 700 MW in the first six months of 2018 — more than the total of 2016 and 50% more than was installed by the same time a year ago. According to Renate Egan, Chair of the Australian PV Institute, “Talk is of over 1.5 GW of sub 100 kW solar going in this year.”

Further, 2018 is expected to be a big year for utility-scale solar farms, “with a significant number of plants coming on line this year,” according to Egan. “The predictions are that there will be over 1 GW of large-scale solar connected in 2018.”

Understanding the discrepancy between the lack of political desire or willpower to support clean energy, and solar in particular, from the Australian Federal Government, is important if we are to properly understand what is driving such impressive growth. To better understand the situation I asked Renate Egan what she thought was behind such a blatant discrepancy:

Renate Egan, Chair of the Australian PV Institute

“There is a significant disconnect between support for solar (and clean energy in general) from the Australian population and the Federal support and policy settings,” Egan said. “In brief, super competitive pricing, a high level of awareness and consumer response/reaction to poor Federal support for clean energy, and a lack of clarity on energy policy are driving consumer (residential, commercial, and industrial) to unprecedented levels of investment in solar. It’s cheap, its clean and the government isn’t acting, so people are.”

Australia is currently being led by the Liberal Party (which has nothing to do with liberal politics, whatsoever), under the leadership of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. It was the same party, however, that was led by then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man who has made his name infamously connected with pro-coal policies and anti-clean energy/-climate change. While Malcolm Turnbull is less strident in his attacks on climate science and clean energy, his party nevertheless remains beholden to the coal industry. As a result, where the Federal Government has failed to act, others have stepped up.

“A lack of Federal government policy has left a vacuum that has been filled by individuals, communities, local councils and state governments,” continued Egan.

“A number of factors relatively unique to Australia drive individual (home and business) investment in solar:

  • Remnant national energy policy means that there is still a low level of support for small scale solar (small scale technology certificates STCs, worth about 0.6 AUD/kW installed)
  • Modest net feed-in-tariffs (that vary from state to state)
  • relatively high electricity prices, with averaging pricing of 25-30c/kWhr and peak pricing at residential levels of 55c/kWhr
  • a super-competitive installer market that has installed solar priced at 0.8 to 1.5 AUD/kW installed after the STC rebate  of 0.5 to 1.2 USD/kW installed

“All the above mean solar now has a residential or small commercial payback time of about 4 years (and a [return on investment (ROI)] over 20 years of over 20%). With over 20% of free-standing homes with solar on the roof, there is a high level of awareness and interest in solar.”

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