Australia: Adelaide airport array characteristic of C&I growth

While not big in global terms, a new solar array to be constructed in the South Australian capital city of Adelaide is indicative of growth in the commercial rooftop (C&I) sector in the country. ‘Behind the meter’ arrays, or those in which the electricity produced by the solar system are consumed on-site, are proving to be particularly attractive, with companies turning to solar to reduce electricity costs and as a part of corporate responsibility programs.

The 1.17 MW Adelaide airport array will be located on the roof of its short-term car park. Installation set to be completed by April 2016. Solgen Energy is executing the project.

"I think the uptake in solar is definitely increasing, and that’s driven by companies looking to save money," said Solgen Energy director David Naismith. "The reality is the business case stands before the emission savings in many cases, businesses are under enough pressure but when they can see there is an operational save like energy, they are going to go for it."

Adelaide airport administrators said that the solar array stacked up financially, despite it being able to access “competitive” electricity pricing.

“We are seeing that commercial sized projects, between 10 kW – 100 kW, are becoming a greater share of the small scale market. Currently this sector [C&I] accounts for about 23 – 24% of the market,” said Ric Brazzale, the Managing Director of Green Energy Trading.

Green Energy Trading generates, monetizes and trades the small and large-scale generation certificates (SGCs/LGCs) that are created under Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET). Liable parties under the RET, largely utilities or electricity retailers, are required to purchase these certificates. Brazzale notes that the price of LGCs has reached around AU$64/certificate in recent months, with that price having increased over time.

Speaking at the All Energy trade show in Melbourne last month, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt unequivocally stated that he is sending a clear message to parties liable under the RET scheme, that if they do not purchase sufficient SGC/LGCs and a penalty price comes into effect, that the government will not change the system to allow them to avoid these costs.

Alternatively to purchasing certificates, liable parties can develop PV projects, which in turn generate certificates.

“For a large industrial electricity consumer, if there is tenure on the site and the company will be in business for some time, [a commercial rooftop solar array] makes economic sense,” Brazzale told pv magazine. “This is particularly true when it is put in perspective of the cost of funding at the moment. Bank debt in Australia is generally priced around 5 – 6%, and PV payback is well short of that.”

“From our point of view this segment is growing.” Brazzale continued. “There are more-and-more of these sites. When you stop and think about how big Australia is, how much roof space there is, there are many opportunities.”

For liable parties looking to generate LGCs, Brazzale noted that solar PV is a good fit. This is a result of solar continuing to enjoy broad public support and the ability to develop arrays from 20 MW an upwards, a point at which economies of scale kick in, and then replicate or expand those projects as required.

The Australian rooftop market saw over 800 MW of new installs in 2014. Green Energy Trading reports that the market in 2015 is currently 9% below where it was at this time last year, however an end-of-year uptick is expected.