Australia basks within the three million solar milestone on rooftops, however darkish clouds are gathering
As contradicting messages come from state and federal politicians, Australian householders are taking climate protection into their own hands and installing solar PV on the roof with world record numbers. Recently, three local renewable energy companies announced that Australia had passed the three million solar roof mark, and they also showed how PV power can make Australia a world leader.
Speed of Light
The numbers behind Australian households advocating rooftop solar panels are astounding. In Australia, 41 rooftop solar systems are installed every hour – or a solar panel every 44 seconds. And those numbers are still rising from 270,000 systems in 2020 to 369,000 in 2021. These installation rates make Australia the world leader in residential PV. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the number of solar households in Australia per capita is 22% ahead of its closest competitors, Germany and Japan.
Source: Tristan Edis / Green Energy Markets
And what’s behind that Bradmanesque run rate? Well, as with anything, it’s a combination of factors, but the efficiency of Australian solar installers and the PV industry in general is a major driving force.
“Thanks to the highly efficient solar workforce in Australia, Australia is one of the countries with the lowest rooftop costs,” said Kane Thornton, CEO of the Clean Energy Council, Australia’s renewable energy industry association. “Our lots of sunshine, big houses and high electricity prices make the payback in Australia shorter than in most other countries.”
Owning three million solar homes and small businesses also helps reduce CO2 emissions in Australia and prepares the country for the new, low-carbon economy of the future, added Ellen Roberts, national director of the community-based solar owners’ organization. Solar citizens.
“As we move to a cleaner economy, having plenty of cheap energy during the day to power electric vehicles, charge community batteries and support new manufacturing industries onshore is a valuable resource,” continued Roberts.
“With the hard work of the Australians, we are well positioned to become a clean energy superpower that can export our sunshine to the world.”
While this is undoubtedly good news for the economy, climate change, and the millions of Australian households who also benefit from cheaper utility bills, some dark clouds are looming on the horizon and clouds are not solar friendly.
The bad news is that certain developments could make solar systems in Australian homes more difficult and expensive. The first such cloud relates to the current dynamics within the global solar industry. As of 2021, around 80% of solar modules will be manufactured in China or by Chinese companies. This in itself is not a problem, but at the moment there are simply not enough solar modules rolling off the production line to meet global demand.
Announcing a module supply contract with one of the largest solar wholesalers this week, China’s LONGi Solar noted that “supply chain difficulties” had affected “solar module availability” [panels] in Australia. “LONGi itself is a giant in the solar industry and has in the past increased the efficiency of solar modules and changed the industry. In addition to the much-noticed global supply chain crisis, a number of shortages lead from solar glass to raw materials for modules, polysilicon and a number of others Components cause Chinese manufacturers of solar modules to try to keep up with the supply.
In addition, there is currently electricity shortage in parts of China as the national government takes action against some environmentally harmful power plants. As a result, the solar module factories could not run at full capacity.
In short, the price of solar modules around the world is back at 2019 levels. While rising prices are nothing new in many industries, they are highly unusual in the solar industry – as prices have fallen dramatically over the past decade and, as a result, solar systems will change in just a few years amortized by saving on utility bills for Australian homeowners.
It is difficult to predict how prices for solar panels will move, but there is little evidence that they will fall in the short term. Polysilicon, the raw material that forms the basis of over 95% of the panels produced annually, rose dramatically over the course of 2021, and industry analysts see no end to the polysilicon shortage until mid-2022.
The other possible dark cloud for Australian households looking to install a solar array is local. In a way, the rooftop solar system could become a victim of its own success. The problem is of course not too much sun, but too much sun at the same time. Basically, more electricity is offered than is demanded. In the past, the grid did not have to cope with this and could lead to solar energy being limited in particularly overloaded sections of the grid.
In July of this year, the new head of Australia’s electricity network AEMO, Daniel Westerman, said his goal was to build a system that can handle 100% renewable energies at certain times of the day because 100% renewable energies are reached much faster at certain times of the day than expected. However, in the short term this could lead to a containment of solar energy. In this context, cutbacks mean that solar systems must be prevented from feeding electricity into the grid – essentially short-lived households who have invested in rooftop solar systems and expect to earn additional money by feeding in their additional solar energy.
Source: Tristan Edis / Green Energy Markets
In the worst case, the companies that operate electricity grids can even ask AEMO to prohibit homeowners from installing solar panels in certain areas. In a first step there are already limits to the size of the solar system that can be installed.
However, there is already a relatively simple win-win solution out there. “Batteries stand out as a simple and quick solution,” wrote Green Energy Markets analyst Tristan Edis in 2020. “The battery will be the [solar electricity] Energy that would otherwise be exported and then displaces network imports in the evening when the network companies and thus also the retailers raise prices. “
In other words: by adding a solar battery, part of the electricity generated by the modules during the day can be used in the evening, when demand is highest and therefore grid prices are highest. Multiply that double saving in coins and emissions on thousands of households and it will also give network operators and AEMO the confidence to clear the way for Australia’s continuing passion for residential PV.
Australia’s greatest advances in decarbonization and the global energy transition have been made by everyday Australian households – in the form of the introduction of solar energy into residential buildings. And the future doesn’t look much different, except that solar energy will be coupled to batteries so that Australia’s abundant sunshine will last through the darkest nights.
By Chris Williams