Australia leads world in residential solar penetration

The Energy Supply Association of Australia has published a report that shows that with a national average of 15% penetration, the country leads the way in terms of residential rooftop solar. Belgium has the second highest rate, according to the report, with 7%.

“We’re clearly leading the world in rooftop solar,” said Energy Supply Association CEO Matthew Warren, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Most other countries are in low single digits, so we’re kind of pioneering the experiment of rooftop solar and the world is watching,” Warren told ABC Radio National.

While Belgium may be in second place with regards to penetration, the market size is far smaller than Australia’s. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts Belgium to install some 65 MW of PV in 2015, while Australia should push over 1 GW.

Belgium does trump Australia in terms of installed PV capacity per capita, according to the report. Rather predictably Germany leads the way with 0.47kW per capita (PC), followed by Italy (31kW/PC), and Belgium (0.28kW/PC). Australia (0.19kW/PC) comes in sixth place.

Where Australia falls behind in the global solar rankings is in the large scale sector. Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) figures anticipate that Australia’s large scale capacity will total less than 300 MW by year’s end, a most meager sum given the state of California alone has some 7.3 GW of utility scale solar alone.

“It’s one of those peculiarities,” Warren told the ABC. “We’ve seen almost no utility scale in Australia, whereas countries like Germany and the U.S. have predominantly utility scale solar, and that’s been because of the way our renewable energy target has been designed. So it’s tended to bias us towards lowest-cost renewable generation like wind at the expense of slightly higher-cost utility scale like solar.”

The CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are targeting an additional 300 MW of large scale solar in two new funding programs. ARENA is making AU$100 million (US$70 million) available for projects larger than 5 MW with the CEFC rolling out a complimentary program of loans, worth AU$250 million.

The ARENA program alone targets 200 MW of capacity, with the body having previously supported some of the around 211 MW that is operational or under construction at the Broken Hill (53 MW), Nyngan (102 MW) and Moree (56 MW) farm sites. Smaller projects include the Royalla Solar Farm (24 MW) and Greenough River Project (10 MW).

Both the CEFC and ARENA say that the goal of their latest programs is to reduce the cost of large scale solar in Australia. If prices of AU$70 – $90 million/MWh can be achieved, then large scale solar can compete with wind projects in the country. ARENA targets projects with a cost of around $130/MWh under its latest funding round.

“Within Australia to get to that point of $130/MWh is a significant milestone,” the CEFC’s chief investment officer Theodore Dow told pv magazine. “It wasn’t that long ago that prices like $170/MWh were the norm.”

Oversight of both ARENA and CEFC has been transferred to the federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, since Malcolm Turnbull was installed as Prime Minister by his party earlier this month.

The forthcoming October edition of pv magazine includes a feature article on the utility scale outlook in Australia. The All Energy trade show in Melbourne kicks off next week, bringing together solar professionals from around the country and region.