Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of homes and businesses use energy from the sun to generate electricity cleanly and quietly. The conversion of sunlight into electricity takes place in cells of specially fabricated semiconductor crystals.

Solar doesn't generate electricity all the time, but it does generate electricity when it is needed most – during the day and during hot sunny periods when the demand for power (driven by air-conditioners) is at its peak.

Another bonus of small-scale solar is that it generates electricity at the point of demand (i.e. where people live and work). That means there is no need to transfer energy over long distances using expensive electrical infrastructure.

Solar PV in Australia: 2013 in focus

Over a million Australian homes have had solar power systems installed

Almost 1.25 million Australian properties have solar power systems

Almost 1.25 million small-scale solar power systems were installed across the country by the end of 2013, meaning that around 3.1 million Australians now live or work beneath a set of solar panels.

In 2013, small-scale solar was responsible for 11 per cent of Australia's clean energy generation and produced 1.62 per cent of the country's total electricity.

While more than 200,000 solar PV systems were installed in 2013, sales were short of the highs of the previous two years. This can be attributed to the overall contraction of the solar market following the reduction of state-based power incentives. The number of solar installers in Australia also decreased slightly, to a total of 4595 at the end of 2013.

Percentage of Australia's total solar PV capacity in each state (cumulative to end 2013)

Australian Capital Territory

1.3%

New South Wales

20.2%

Northern Territory

0.4%

Queensland

32.8%

South Australia

15.4%

Tasmania

1.9%

Victoria

20.2%

Western Australia

11%


Data from the Office of the Clean Energy Regulator continues to show that Australians from all walks of life are embracing solar technology. Residents of affluent, inner-city suburbs generally installed solar at much lower rates that people in 'mortgage belt', retirement and regional areas, who are more likely to feel the pain of rising electricity prices.

The future of solar PV in Australia

Even without feed-in tariffs, a combination of rising electricity prices and the falling cost of solar PV systems means the business case for solar remains compelling. In its 2012 Australian Energy Technology Assessment, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics estimated that solar power would be among the cheapest of all energy sources by the end of the decade.

However, there are concerns that the Federal Government’s review of the Renewable Energy Target could lead to a reduction in up-front rebates for rooftop solar systems. Removing these rebates would increase the cost of small-scale solar by about 30 per cent. This, in turn, could reduce the amount of solar PV being installed in Australia by 50 per cent or more.

Australia is one of the sunniest continents in the world. Given a stable policy environment, there is massive potential for solar PV to make a significant contribution to electricity generation in Australia over the coming decades.

Sources:

  • SunWiz Consulting, 2014
  • Clean Energy Australia Report 2013