Smashing solar PV records

Solar PV records are tumbling with a new record 3,775 MW installations during 2018, which is nearly three times the level of 2017. Calculations reveal the annual generation from solar PV installed last year represents 71 per cent of the average output of the ageing, polluting Liddell power station in NSW. 

Growth greater than 40 per cent was seen in the residential and commercial sectors during 2018.  NSW was the largest market for residential solar PV in 2018 with 326 MW installed and the state took top spot for commercial systems.

Further analysis of PV installations by market sector – residential, commercial, small power stations and utility-scale* – revealed that Queensland remains the biggest market for solar PV in 2018, accounting for 40 per cent. NSW and Victoria came in at 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

“Continued media focus on energy security and higher prices has acted to generate a desire amongst households and businesses to take greater control over their electricity supply and an interest in installing solar,” according to market advisory firm Green Energy Markets.

“Continued high wholesale prices which also flowed into higher feed-in tariffs has further improved the economics of solar PV and made it a more financially attractive proposition for customers.”

Green Energy Markets, which extrapolated data from the Clean Energy Regulator’s REC-Registry, noted a full year’s output from systems installed in 2018 amounts to more than 6 million megawatt hours, equivalent to 3.2 per cent of electricity consumed in the National Electricity Market.

Think that’s impressive? This year is tipped to be bigger again.

The GEM report states “If we add the generation from the expected level of solar installations in 2019 and 2020 it will deliver a staggering 19 million MWh which is 10 per cent of NEM consumption, which coincidently is equivalent to the combined output of the (now closed) Hazelwood power station and the Liddell power station [that’s scheduled to close in 2022].”

As the chart below illustrates, the residential market had been the mainstay of Australia’s PV industry until 2017. But with more than 2,080 MW of utility-scale solar power stations installed and commissioned in 2018 the tally came in at 55 per cent of total installations.

A spike in large-scale developments is set to push the market higher still, given the amount of solar projects currently under construction.

The market report indicates more than 3,000 MW (DC) of utility-scale projects will be commissioned in 2019, due to significant reductions in installed system costs, higher wholesale prices and support under the mandated Renewable Energy Target.

However GEM believes developments of this scale will fall during 2020 when the Renewable Energy Target is met, and in the absence of any other legislative instrument designed to curb emissions and support the development of clean, renewable energy.

Smart Energy Council President Steve Blume pondered whether the strong performance of solar energy anticipated in 2019 would represent the rise before the fall.

“We have seen a record year for PV installations in 2018 with more than two million rooftop systems now connected, a continued growth in commercial and industrial (C&I) rooftop, and a raft of large-scale facilities commissioned and under construction … well over 10GW power generation assets funded using private investment at no risk to taxpayers,” he said.

“In 2019 we will see a continued rapid growth in the residential and C&I rooftop sector and a pipeline of large-scale of around 14GW out to 2020 will continue to be deployed.”

What about roadblocks?

“Some commentators are suggesting a brick wall and rapid decline for renewables after the RET for large scale ends in 2020, but large-scale generation certificates (LGCs} have been factored at near to or at zero value in large project proposals for the past 18 months so I think that is not going to cause a collapse.”

He says we are increasingly seeing the uncompetitiveness of fossil fuel plants: ageing, under utilised, and inflexible coal plants and expensive gas peakers with firm supply new build renewables likely to be increasingly attractive.

“But supply is more easily fixed - the real area of focus is on network capacity and location of transmission lines to deliver the output. There is work being done on transmission and inter-connector upgrades, and more on-grid battery support, but we already see barriers to deployment slowing renewable energy growth and likely greater curtailment to come.”

The processes remain slow and arcane, he believes, and not fit for purpose to the rapid energy transition already well underway.

“The creation of better connected locationally suitable infrastructure and the redesign of the network to allow demand response and other smart energy systems are the areas of focus for 2019.

“A federal government which supports renewables, as do all States and Territories, rather than actively opposes them, would be a great booster - I think we’ll see that possibility earlier in the year rather than later, but that’s just idle speculation of course.”

*PV market segments are based on the size of the installation as follows:

- Residential – systems installed up to and including 15 kW in size;

- Commercial – systems installed between 15 kW and 100 kW

- Small power stations – systems above 100kW that need to be registered as power stations under the Renewable Energy Target; and

- Utility-scale – systems installed greater than 5 MW (AC) in size.

Source: Green Energy Markets