After Record 2021, Rooftop Solar Likely To Face Headwinds In Australia

Highlights :

  • In this occasional Country series for 2022, we start with Australia, where 2021 was a standout year for solar. What does 2022 hold ? And how will Australia keep growing its renewable base?
After Record 2021, Rooftop Solar Likely To Face Headwinds In Australia

Solar power in Australia is a fast growing industry. As of September 2021, the country had an installed photovoltaic capacity of 23,466 MW, of which at least 4,117 MW had been installed in the preceding 12 months.

Notably, the installed PV capacity in Australia increased tenfold between 2009 and 2011 and quadrupled between 2011 and 2016. Indeed, solar power accounted for 9.9% or 22.5 TWh of the country’s total electrical energy production in 2020.

But despite Australia’s recent emergence among leaders in solar power, the country still has many issues to tackle, some of which are discussed below.

A study produced by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, University of New South Wales, and the Australian Photovoltaic Institute, found that Australia was using less than 5% of the potential capacity for rooftop solar. The study found that the annual output from rooftop solar could reach 245 TWh. This is more than the annual grid consumption of just under 200 TWh.

The solar power market in Australia is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19.56% during the period of 2020 to 2025.

However factors, such as supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, increasing share of alternative clean energy sources and an expected delay in large scale solar power projects are expected to restrain the growth of the solar power market.

For instance, almost a third of households in Australia now have rooftop solar power systems. But this is leading to teething problems like curtailment of output. And incremental reach in any case would only get tougher.

The country’s electrical grids were designed for fossil fuel power stations which only export power. But rooftop solar power systems both consume and export power. That means rooftop solar power systems may lead to high voltage levels outside of the acceptable range. ‘Curtailment‘ is done to counter this.

The loss of power production due to curtailment can go upto 20%. This issue is set to get bigger as more rooftop solar power systems are installed and exported to the grid, even as those who installed on the basis of promises to allow export feel cheated.

The issue of curtailment implies that consumers may not get everything they expect out of their rooftop solar power systems. As users absorb losses, faith in rooftop solar power systems is undermined.

Additionally, Australia faces major challenges when it comes to solar farms.

Inland regions are appropriate for solar farms. However, they are scarcely populated. Electrical transmission in such regions would need deployment of extremely long power lines through rugged terrain.

Further, most of the country’s population lives in the coastal region. But the setting up of solar farms on prime agricultural land causes great concerns.

Moreover, with fewer people paying for electricity offered by the retailers, it raises the question of who will pay for the costs of the distribution network? This issue may lead to a death spiral where a small group of people who do not have access to rooftop solar power systems pay for a large part of the cost of the distribution network.

Nonetheless, Australia has made considerable progress in solar power. If it can manage the challenges in its path, it is likely to continue to lead the rise of solar power and further its transition towards a low carbon economy. It has already made a start to finding solutions by its use of large batteries, where it has been somewhat of a pioneer, with the Hornsdale battery. Ever larger batteries that can store power in the daytime and inject it into the grid later are coming up or in the works. Making it all a profitable option for the stakeholders involved is the big question.

Another solution in the works is a race to export renewable energy, be it in the for of transcontinental lines of the kind being set up by Suncable, or manufacture and export of green hydrogen, again supported by renewable energy. By effectively being off grid, these projects take the grid out of the equation even as they establish large renewable capacities.

Written by Vedang Singh

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