Future of the Solar Industry in Australia Shines Bright

By in Markets, Technology
Solar Project Australia

Image Credit: Solgen Energy, 55kWp Solar Installation, Redfern Oval in City of Sydney 

The word Australia conjures images of the Sydney Opera House, kangaroos and cuddly koala bears. Behind all these somewhat stereotypical images, is the little publicised fact that Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world.  Each year, Australia receives enough power from the sun to meet the country’s energy consumption 10,000 times over.

According to the Australian Solar Council, Australia has a total installed solar panel capacity of about 2.24GW, as the number of solar PV installations has increased seventy-five fold between 2008 and 2012.   The Australian government appointed Climate Commission (now the Climate Council) highlights that in just five years the number of Australian solar PV systems went from 8,000 to 1,000,000 with ordinary Australians driving the change. Well over 90% of Australia’s solar installations are on homes and residences, a different dynamic than seen in other major markets like China and the U.S.  Data collected by ACIL-Allen Consulting for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency demonstrates the remarkable uptake of solar PV by individual states between 2011 and 2013.

By May 2013, more than one million rooftop solar PV systems had been installed, and 2.6 million Australians (more than 10% of the population) are using the sun to power their homes.

This dramatic growth has been driven by a number of factors:

  1. The cost of solar panels has become more affordable, which is the driving cost factor in any solar installation.
  2. A comparison of rooftop PV installation costs across the world has shown that the cost of installed solar PV in Australia is amongst the world’s lowest
  3.  Demand for solar PV has risen as retail energy prices increased on average by 40% between 2009 to 2012.  A recent survey has reinforced widespread support from Australian households for solar PV.  
  4. State and federal government incentives – including feed-in tariffs and tax credits – have helped spur demand for residential and commercial solar PV.

However, a recent change of government in Australia has ushered in a period of policy uncertainty, with the proposed removal of the carbon tax and a review of the existing 2020 Renewable Energy Target.  In addition, the electricity market is currently in a state of oversupply with slower economic growth and greater energy efficiency contributing towards lower consumption of electricity.  In addition, according to RenewEconomy, the incumbent utilities are also fighting “to brake or even halt the rapid uptake of solar PV – pushing for higher network charges, refusing connections and downsizing rooftop proposals, as well as removing discounts and forcing tariff changes on solar consumers.”

Despite these challenges, the long-term future remains bright for the solar industry in Australia.  Solar PV is hovering right around grid parity in many locations, and its popularity grows with its cost-competitiveness.  At the recent All-Energy Conference in Melbourne, Victoria, Ivor Frischknecht, CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), highlighted an IPSOS survey that said 88% of Australians supported rooftop solar PV.  This is undoubtedly one reason why the West Australian government eventually backflipped after trying to retrospectively reduce solar feed-in tariffs from 40c/kWh to 20c/kWh five years earlier than promised.

Yingli Solar has been supplying solar panels to the Australia market since 2009, and we made a more formal commitment to the Australian market with the opening of our Sydney office in August this year.  Since then, we’ve been involved in a number of ground-breaking projects.  For example, through our partnership with Solgen Energy, we are delivering Australia’s largest combined building-mounted PV solar program, featuring approximately 5,500 Yingli Solar panels installed on 30 major buildings in Sydney, including grandstands, depots and libraries. The 1.25MW solar program will help solidify the City of Sydney’s position as Australia’s solar capital.

Ultimately we are excited by the huge untapped potential for solar in Australia – maybe one day the country will be as well known for its solar panel installations as for its iconic Sydney Opera House.

Daman Cole is the Commercial Director of Yingli Solar in Australia.

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