The Australian Energy Council’s quarterly solar report points to something getting bigger in the solar industry that isn’t just about large-format modules – average PV system sizes are getting bigger in Australia.
As few would disagree, large-format modules are the talk of the solar industry at the moment and many are asking whether bigger is necessarily better. However, there is one thing that is getting bigger in Australian solar that few would complain about, and that is the size of small-scale systems themselves.
According to the Australian Energy Council’s (AEC) quarterly Solar Report, the average solar system size for residential and small businesses has increased from 2.65 kW in January 2012 to a peak of 8.86 kW in December 2020. Of course, it is worth noting that the average size of system installations peaks every December, followed by a seasonal fall in January.
Of course, similar increases of scale are being seen in the large-scale sector, increasing by 5.4 GW across 69 solar farm projects in that time. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, the report shows 450 MW of newly grid-connected solar capacity. This includes the 132 MW Glenrowan West Sun Farm in Victoria, which went live in February, the 200 MW Kiamal Solar Farm, the 106 MW Yatpool Solar Farm, and the 12.5 MW Robertson Barracks Solar Farm in the Northern Territory.
AEC Chief Executive Sarah McNamara said the quarterly report also shows that the “number of new monthly installations are likely to exceed 85,000 for the January to March 2021 quarter. New South Wales continues to lead the states with more than 24,400 new installations and 194 MW of total installed solar capacity added in the first quarter of 2021.”
McNamara also noted the growing uptake of battery storage. “Almost 1,400 units installed in 2021 so far. When comparing the uptake of battery installations with rooftop solar by state South Australia (SA) and NSW lead, accounting for around 25% and 23% of total installations,” she said.
Queensland seems to be the state lagging behind in the solar+battery installation figures. It only accounts for 11.8% of total solar+battery installations. This may be due to the state government’s incentive scheme drying up in 2019, underscoring the need for subsidies when it comes to batteries, which are still on the expensive side.
The AEC has also done some number crunching on what is probably the biggest talking point in Australian solar as far as end-users are concerned – export charges. As South Australia has shown, unless grid upgrades are made by electricity distributors, solar exports will be limited. And this will have a resounding impact on the solar industry, on wholesale energy prices, and of course, most importantly, on emissions reductions.
As the Australian Energy Market Commission has outlined, there are two paths forward. We do nothing, and watch electricity prices and emissions rise. Or we upgrade the distribution network and incur extra costs in the meantime. But such costs can be offset with solar.
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