APVA reports on Australian solar industry's record-breaking year

Despite current fears in the industry about the stripping back of funding, drops in feed in-tariffs, photovoltaic installation safety, and a potential boom-bust scenario, the APVA report provides an image of an industry developing rapidly under favorable conditions with increased attention paid to developing new technologies.

The coming years might not match 2010’s huge numbers, but an APVA spokesperson told pv magazine that the association is confident about the ability of the industry to maintain its high standards.

The grid connected photovoltaic market in Australia grew more than 480 percent in 2010, from 73 megawatts (MW) to 383 MW installed in the year. This was driven by a combination of support via the Solar Homes and Communities program, Solar Credits and feed-in tariffs, bolstered by rapid international photovoltaic price drops, a high Australian dollar exchange rate and streamlining of local photovoltaic system delivery chains.

Of the newly installed systems, 99 percent were grid-connected, taking the cumulative grid-connected portion to 85 percent, up from 54 percent last year. Total installed capacity in Australia is now 571 MW, which is up from 104 MW at the end of 2008.

"Such streamlining was achieved most notably by reduced reliance on PV distributors, as well as by sales of standardized systems, without individual designs for the site," the report said.

Peter Newman, the CEO of the APVA, said that the most significant development he saw was the volume of take up that the market saw in 2010.

"The thing about 2010 is that it is a massive story, the numbers tell you that. To me the Australian public has embraced the opportunity of solar photovoltaics in a way that never occurred and on a scale that is just unpredictable. This has been done of course because of a combination of a whole pile of things, but it is brilliant that we are doing in a country that is designed perfectly for solar."

Newman says that next couple of years may see the market plateau, but this would provide long-term stability. The rapid increase in photovoltaics uptake that resulted in the curtailment or reduction of government support programs has raised concerns that the market may over-correct itself in the short term, which has led the APVA to act by working closely with the government bodies to make sure there is a smooth transition.

"The APVA is targeting all the government sectors in Australia to try to encourage them to come in to a planned exit. We see the point where they will exit, because the commercial reality takes over," says Newman.

Money matters

The report indicates that the total value of photovoltaic business in Australia is AUD$1.26 billion (€923 million).

Typical module and system prices continued to fall in 2010, although there was still a wide spread of prices in Australia. Module prices averaged AUD$3.20/Wp, but ranged from AUD$2.0 to 3.70 and small grid system prices averaged AUD$6/Wp, down from AUD$9/W last year.

Australia has only one flat-plate photovoltaic cell and module producer, Silex Solar, and they produced eight MW of c-Si modules in 2010, which accounted for a little over two percent of installations during the year.

Interest in larger systems has been raised by the Australian Government’s Solar Flagship program, with winners of the first stage, for 150 MW of photovoltaics, to be announced in 2011. State governments have also shown interest in developing commercial-scale photovoltaic markets. These will provide better economies of scale for the industry, as well as better matching electricity load profiles.

Until this initiative, the vast majority of incentives have been for household units.

R&D growing

According to the report, a total of AUD$641.3 million (€470 million) was spent by the Australian and State and Territory Governments on photovoltaic R&D, demonstration and market stimulation, with the latter accounting for 78 percent of expenditure, largely due to rebates provided through the Solar Homes and Communities Plan, which has now ended.

Most Australian universities now undertake some type of photovoltaics research, whether technical, economic or social, according to the report. There are also a number of government agencies that develop technology at a substantial rate in the country.

"Research funding from the ASI will begin to see enhanced research outcomes, encompassing a range of PV technologies," said the report. "The new Australian Centre for Renewable Energy will also begin to provide venture capital and product development support from 2011."

The ASI hopes to accelerate innovation in photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal technologies, which have the potential to significantly reduce costs.

The Australian Centre for Renewable Energy (ACRE) was also established in 2010, and its priority for photovoltaics, according to the report, is to be enabling technologies, including storage, grid connection technologies and hybrid systems.

Universities have made significant contributions, notably with research that has led to increases in efficiency and performance. The Australian National University has worked a lot with silicon wafers and cells, while The University of Queensland has made advances with Next Generation Organic Solar Cells and UQ 1.22 MW arrays.

At the University of New South Wales, a new solar cell efficiency record of 19.3 percent has been set by researchers for a large area (157 cm2) laser doped, selective emitter (LDSE) cell using cells largely processed on a standard Centrotherm screen-printing production line. With further optimization of the cell design, the laser doped solar cell is expected to become the first low-cost cell capable of energy conversion efficiency above 20 percent to enter full-scale production.

The report, which was carried out on behalf on the International Energy Agency, is provided to key stakeholders in the Australian solar landscape, including government partners the Australian Solar Institute (ASI) and big corporates like Rio Tinto and BP Solar.