Survey: Covid-19 to cause 50% decline in Australian rooftop solar

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From pv magazine Australia.

With a monthly run rate of more than 200 MW of new capacity installed, the Australian small scale rooftop solar market was soaring to record heights in the first three months of the year. However, like many industries, rooftop PV appears set for steep decline as the uncertainty and economic disruption caused by Covid-19 depresses new orders.

A survey carried out by pv magazine Australia and research company Green Energy Markets revealed rooftop solar installers and suppliers are seeing steep declines in new leads and enquiries. Almost half the respondents reported declines in customer enquiries of 25-50%. What’s worse, 20% of respondents report new leads had “completely dried up.”

Tristan Edis, director of analysis and advisory for Green Energy Markets, said Covid-19 has “changed everything” – after a record-setting first quarter. Edis added: “The survey results look very grim, suggesting that not even a booming solar sector can escape the impacts of the Covid-19 downturn that has put so many people out of work and a range of major industries like tourism, hospitality and education into a coma.”

Edis noted January, February and March saw 203 MW, 215 MW and 254 MW, respectively, of sub-100 kWp solar systems added to Australian rooftops – according to data related to the issue of small scale technology certificate (STC) rebates. He said some installers and retailers are reporting they built up a considerable backlog of orders in that period, which may provide buffers ranging from six weeks to three months. “But then the drop in customer interest will bite,” said the Green Energy Markets spokesman.

One positive to emerge from the survey data was that installers were not reporting a rush of order cancellations. “This would seem to suggest that April could record installs above the 200 MW mark as well,” noted Edis.

Asked what a 50% decline in installations could mean, Edis said it would result in a monthly installation run rate of around 100 MW for around 1.6 GW of new rooftop solar for the full year. That level of activity would represent a contraction to 2018 levels, “which at the time was considered a massive year for the industry,” said Edis.

That, sentiment, however, is likely to be cold comfort for many. “This will be extremely tough for many solar businesses around Australia, many of which would have geared up on the expectation of something closer to 200 MW per month,” added the Green Energy Markets representative.

The survey data do not indicate any surge to battery storage either, as had been predicted by some commentators, who felt households and businesses would try to build resilience in the face of wider economic uncertainty. While results were mixed, negative sentiment outweighed positive responses in terms of increased demand for battery storage.

The seven-day survey started on April 2 and had 45 responses.

Covid-19

Read pv magazine’s coverage of Covid-19 and tell us how it is affecting your solar and energy storage operations. Email editors@pv-magazine.com to share your experiences.