Australia Among the Top 10 Solar Power Countries

23 September 2020

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is constantly publishing data and reports about renewable energy around the world. Their publications include solar power data, such as country rankings in terms of installed capacity. Australia is currently in 8th place, based on the data for the latest complete year (2019).

IRENA reported a global solar power capacity of 578,553 MW for 2019. China tops the ranking, with 205,072 MW and 35.4% of the global solar capacity. In other words, one of every three solar panels is installed in China. The reported solar capacity for Australia was 13,250 MW, which represents 2.3% of the total.

The top 10 solar power countries are listed below:

  • China – 205,072 MW
  • Japan – 61,840 MW
  • USA – 60,540 MW
  • Germany –  49,016 MW
  • India – 34,831 MW
  • Italy – 20,900 MW
  • United Kingdom -13,616 MW
  • Australia – 13,250 MW
  • France -10,562 MW
  • Republic of Korea – 10,505 MW

In terms of growth, the year 2019 was remarkable for the Australian solar industry. According to IRENA, solar capacity in Australia increased from 8,625 MW to 13,250 MW. This represents an increase of 4,625 MW, equivalent to 53.6% growth. For comparison, the global solar capacity increased from 480,984 MW to 578,553 MW, which represents 97,569 MW (20.3 % growth).

A global investment of US$ 141 billion was reported for solar power in 2019. For a capacity of 97,569 MW, this results in an average cost of slightly over US$ 1.44 per watt (AU$ 2 per watt). However, many solar power projects are being deployed for less than AU$1 per watt in Australia, around 50% less than the average international cost.

Comparing Solar Power With Other Renewable Sources

When compared with other renewable energy sources, solar power is in third place in terms of global capacity, surpassed only by hydroelectricity and wind power.

  • Hydropower – 1,130,594 MW (44.6%)
  • Onshore wind – 594,253 MW (23.5%)
  • Solar photovoltaic – 578,553 MW (22.8%)

In the case of Australia, solar power is the largest renewable source by capacity, followed by onshore wind power and hydropower. This is based on 2019, which is the latest year with complete data.

  • Solar photovoltaic – 13,250 MW (45.7%)
  • Onshore wind – 7,133 MW (24.6%)
  • Hydropower – 5,918 MW (20.4%)

Australia has a combination of natural and manmade factors that favor the use of solar power. Many solar projects achieve a payback period below 3 years in Australia, and high-quality PV modules have a typical service life of over 25 years, making them an excellent investment.

Why Has Solar Power Been So Successful in Australia?

Each country offers unique conditions for the solar industry. For example, a region can have low sunshine, but solar power still makes sense if technology costs are low and electricity prices are high. Australia in particular offers a combination of excellent conditions for solar power:

  • Abundant sunshine, which makes solar panels very productive. Geoscience Australia estimated that the solar radiation received annually contains 10,000 times more energy than what the country uses.
  • Expensive electricity, which makes solar generation very valuable. Many homes and businesses have electricity prices above 30 cents/kWh, and even above 40 cents/kWh in some parts of Australia.
  • Low solar technology costs: Australia is relatively close to China, where most solar components are manufactured, and this reduces shipping costs. Also, the local tax policy is favorable for imported solar panels.
  • Government incentive programs at the federal, state and territory level. These include the Renewable Energy Target, which offers solar incentives in the form of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

When these factors are combined, solar power becomes one of the best building upgrades for homeowners and corporations in Australia. This is reflected by the high adoption rate of solar power systems in the country, and a spot among the top 10 solar energy countries.

Solar power usage can be expected to increase as battery systems drop in price, since they allow the use of solar electricity 24/7. The photovoltaic array must simply be sized large enough to have surplus production for nighttime and low sunshine hours.

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