The Australian solar industry had its best month on record in November 2017, with more than 120 megawatts of capacity brought online. June 2012 held the record previously, with 110 MW of new solar photovoltaic capacity, but this time things are different for the better.
Back in 2012, incentive programs for solar power were excellent, with feed-in tariffs four to six times higher than the present value and larger cash rebates in the form of small-scale technology credits (STCs). Many incentive programs about to be trimmed in June 2012, causing a sort of “gold rush”, where many building owners wanted to deploy solar power with the older and better incentives.
Now in November 2017, the market conditions are different: The STC program still exists but the incentive is now much smaller, and solar power became competitive because it is now more affordable while Australian electricity tariffs are at their highest point ever.
Renewable energy is getting a lot of negative publicity from some media channels, who claim solar and wind power are responsible for the drastic increase in kilowatt-hour prices in recent years. However, evidence points to the contrary: network costs and rising fossil fuel prices are to blame, while energy from solar panels and wind turbines becomes cheaper each year. It is also important to note that cash rebates from the STC program will gradually decrease each year through 2030, which means the incentive is higher if you act fast.
It can be said that the negative media campaign towards renewables has backfired: Australians are afraid of even higher electricity prices in the near future, and have decided to take control over their energy supply. When you consider that rooftop area is otherwise useless, and that Australia gets the most average sunshine per square meter among all continents, rooftop solar power emerges as a logical solution.
Another important aspect is that expensive electricity is already affecting the business sector, while previous kWh price increases had mostly affected homeowners. Commercial solar PV systems account for 28% of the new capacity added in 2017, while they only accounted for 3% of capacity back in 2012. These solar arrays are much larger that the typical residential installation, creating an even higher demand for solar panels in Australia.
The Australian solar industry has also grown thanks to the hype created around new technologies. Companies like Tesla have done a great job raising public awareness and improving the perception of clean generation, energy storage and electric vehicles.
The “next big thing” in the solar industry is most likely battery storage, since it allow photovoltaic systems to supply energy for nighttime consumption as well. Batteries can also help decongest the power network, since each property can be equipped with both generation and storage systems. Finally, Australians have a favorable perception of battery systems, and most homeowners who already use solar power are considering the upgrade in the near future.