Another rooftop solar boom in Australia – this time with warnings


Retailers and wholesalers in the solar PV market have reported experiencing “unprecedented demand” in the month of November, which looks set to continue into December, the first month of the Australian summer.

Solar system wholesaler, Solar Juice, said it had seen a “substantial surge in demand” in November, resulting in a “record month” in what was traditionally a period of “fairly soft” demand.

“We’re air-freighting inverters into the country from Germany at the moment to fulfill demand,” Solar Juice sales director Andrew Burgess told RE over the phone on Thursday. “That’s something we haven’t done in 5 years.

“We are already seeing (retailers) pushing really, really hard for supply,” Burgess said. People are saying that they’ve got installation crews booked out to the last day of the year.”

The spike in demand, which Burgess says is coming largely from the commercial solar sector, is being put down to a number of factors, including changes to policy mechanisms – both federally and in a number of states – and the fall in cost of PV panels.

The latter is the result of a global panel glut described by Bloomberg New Energy Finance as “a new era of substantial overcapacity” that could deliver prices as low as $US0.30c/Watt.

In Australia this factor alone could provide impetus for a solar boom, particularly considering how comparatively low solar system prices are in this market already.

Added to this is the flurry of activity created by the impending end of the solar bonus scheme in NSW – closely followed by Victoria – which is expected to see many households expand their existing (and long-since paid off) solar systems, and perhaps adding battery storage.

Another policy lever that is being ratcheted down is the national STC multiplier rebate. That is, from January 31 2017, the deeming period will be dropped from 15 years to 14 years; and will drop another year, every year for the next 15 years.

According to Nigel Morris, from solar retailer Roof Juice, the cost impact of this wind-back will be negligible, and almost certainly cancelled out by further declines in panel prices.

Nonetheless, he told RenewEconomy, there are companies out there using the rebate wind-down as a “scare tactic” to convince people to invest now. And a lot of these companies, Morris warns, will be pedalling poor quality and “dumb” solar.

“Of the around 500MW or so of solar PV moved through the retail market so far this year, somewhere between six to 10 companies supply around 50-60 per cent of it,” he told RE. Of that number, he adds, “the majority is absolute crap, dumb solar, cheap solar.”

This, “unequivocally has an impact on the broader industry,” says Morris, because it is these guys who these guys set the price expectations for the entire market.

“There is nowhere on the planet where you can get solar as cheap as you can in Australia,” he said. Ultimately, consumers are “confounded and utterly confused … (and) don’t know who to believe. They’re nervous about paying double – typically that’s the price gap (between top tier and bottom tier solar), at least double – so that’s a big leap of faith.”

Burgess, meanwhile, is a little more upbeat about the state of the retail market. Sure, there are “some ratbags out there, and we’re not going to get rid of them,” he concedes.


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