First 100 MW solar plant points to missed opportunity in Australia

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And while it is a welcome thought that Australia has finally made it onto the big solar map, it also highlights just what could have been for big solar in Australia.

The Nyngan solar farm will, for a short time, be the biggest solar farm in the southern hemisphere, and will be quickly followed by its sister project, the 53MW solar farm in Broken Hill. But beyond that, and the equally heavily subsidised 56MW solar farm in Moree, the outlook for big solar in Australia is bleak.

That’s a shame, and a story of missed opportunity. Australia has some of the best resources for solar in the world, and wide open spaces. But it currently ranks no 31 in terms of big solar in the world, and even these projects won’t get it into the top 20.

The chance of Australia breaking through that barrier any time soon seems remote. The uncertainty around the renewable energy target means all investment in large-scale solar projects has ground to a halt – bar an innovative floating solar plant in South Australia. The prospect of an agreed cut in the RET from 41,000GWh to 33,500GWh or 32,000GWh mean that wind energy will fill most of the reduced target.

The contrast with South Africa, another coal dependent country, could not be greater. It has so far contracted for more than 5,000MW of large scale wind and solar and announced overnight it would look to install another 6,300MW – much of this solar PV and solar thermal, where it has become a leader in the global market.

In Australia, the completion of the Nyngan installation was accompanied by the connection to the grid of another 25MW block. The rest will be connected in June or July. This graph shows the contribution of the 50MW now connected to the grid. You can see more information in RenewEconomy’s live generation data here.