Australia: Rooftop solar subsidies appear safe, storage program launched

The Australian solar market has been operating under the threat of dramatic changes to subsidy schemes as the Federal Government had endeavored to reduce support for renewables. An announcement from the government on Tuesday states that changes to the small-scale solar scheme, which supports residential and sub-100kW commercial installations, will not take place.

A joint statement from the Minister for Trade and Science Ian Macfarlane and the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt indicates that support for rooftop solar is safe. The statement reads: “We won’t make any changes to small-scale solar and we will also remove the requirement for regular two-yearly reviews of the RET to give the industry the certainty it needs to move ahead.”

The statement comes as pressure builds on the Federal Government and Opposition to find a resolution to a standoff over proposed changes to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, which underpins renewable deployment in the country. The government has been attempting to reduce the RET, in the face of falling electricity demand – itself due to a number of factors.

Support for rooftop solar had been thought to have been in the government’s sites, with a review of the RET having proposed scrapping the small scale solar scheme and reducing the threshold at which commercial projects qualify for the subsidy program. It now appears clear that subsidies for rooftop PV, worth roughly AUD$2,500 (US$1,900) for a 5 kW array, appear safe.

The Australian Solar Council (ASC) has welcomed the move and thanked the opposition parties and independent Senators that had repeatedly refused to pass the government’s RET legislation.

“Don’t be under any illusions, if all of us had not stood up, the government would have had their way, and the small scale scheme would now be history,” said ASC CEO John Grimes.

Australia installed 800 MW of small scale solar in 2014 and boasts one of the highest penetrations of residential rooftop PV globally.

Solar plus storage program launched

Tuesdsay’s announcement from the government has come as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) launches a new program to familiarize real estate developers and utilities with distributed solar and storage. ARENA will provide AUD$3.3 million (US$2.5 million) in funding for a project in the north of the Western Australian city of Perth.

The funding will support a project to see 100 rooftop PV systems coupled with a 1.1 MWh lithium ion battery, in a new housing development called Alkimos Beach. The project is designed to provide new data as to how solar+storage can “deliver value” for homeowners, land developers and utilities.

“Cost effective energy storage will become increasingly important in the quest to include more renewables in our electricity grids,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht when announcing the trial program,

Western Australia’s state-owned utility Synergy will be involved in the program. The developers of the Alkimos Beach residential development are Lend Lease and Landcorp.

“Working with these companies presents an opportunity to increase the use of solar PV in Australia, particularly if they adopt similar models at other residential developments,” said Frischknecht.