Australia: 210 MW shortlist emerges

While the residential solar sector in Australia has taken off, with over 500,000 small-scale systems being installed nationally, the large-scale or power-plant photovoltaic market sector has been slow to take off. At present, the largest project is a 10 MW plant in Western Australia.

Hoping to address this and see large-scale solar capability increased, the ACT Government took the decision to develop up to 210 MW of large-scale projects. The first stage will see 148 MW of capacity selected, and of the 49 proposals received, a shortlist of 22 selected.

"This decision takes Canberra one step closer to becoming Australia’s Solar Capital, and demonstrates the government’s commitment to deliver large-scale solar projects to the ACT community," said ACT, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Simon Corbell.

The two-stage selection process involves short-listed applicants submiting a final proposal and a feed-in tariff they are seeking. 15 of the applicants will submit offers in June 2012 – for 20 MW of projects, while the remaining will have to do so in early 2013.

In explaining the two-stage process, Corbell explained that it should ensure that full value is gained from the recent rapidly falling prices of photovoltaics. "So far, proponents have demonstrated very strong credentials and experience nationally and internationally, with strong local capabilities also demonstrated, especially in the construction phase," Mr Corbell said.

The ACT Government scheme comes at a time when one of Australia’s last photovoltaic manufacturers, Silex Solar, announced that it will permanently close its fab in Sydney. Silex had supplied its modules to the Australian Parliament building in the ACT.

Due to its semi-privatized nature, with "gentailers" present in the market – former fully-state-owned entities, which generate, distribute and retail electricity – Australia has been slow to adopt large-scale photovoltaics. This is despite high retail electricity prices, which are forecast to continue increasing in price, and large amounts of sunshine in the majority of the country. A study from the Australian National University, released last year, concluded that retail grid parity has been reached for photovoltaics in Australia.