The Future of Solar Energy in Australia

The amount of energy that reaches Earth from the Sun on a daily basis is enough to meet the energy needs of the planet several times over. While the startup costs are high, the technology pays dividends over the future, especially in ideal, sunny climates, like Australia.

During September of last year, South Australia endured a statewide blackout. Ever since solar has been booming in the region and throughout the country. In the following months of 2016, Australians invested US$16.9 million in rooftop units.

“South Australians are sending a clear message with their wallets,” said Dan Spencer, a campaigner at Solar Citizens, to PV Tech. ” They see clean solar power as a key part of the solution to rising energy costs and power security while tackling climate change.”

“Whether it’s in Salisbury or regional SA,” Spencer continued, “South Australians are looking to solar for their power, showing just how mainstream renewable energy has become in South Australia.”

It has become increasingly clear to Australians that so-called conventional energy will need to be phased out eventually. Transitioning to renewable energy is not a question of if, but when. Despite pushback from the current government—which seeks to tie the country closer to fossil fuel energy—both technological innovation and a surging market in the private sector are making solar energy more and more viable.

For years, solar energy was criticised as an inefficient pipedream. The technology was likely to underperform promises from the manufacturer and break easily. Due to the issue of power storage, furthermore, critics denounced the technology, saying that it would never be able to usurp conventional energy, but only supplement it.

Not only has the efficiency of solar panels greatly improved over recent years, but with Tesla’s new Powerwall unit, the energy storage issues have largely been solved by providing a battery capable of storing solar energy. The unit has been available for just over a year now, and happy customers now have 12-month results to study.

Nick Pfitzner, a programmer from Sydney, reported that his energy bill dropped by 92%. After paying $2578.26 between February 2015 to February 2016, he paid only $178.71 during the same period in the following year.

“You try and use as much direct solar energy as you can during the day,” Pfitzner told The Australian. “You might set your dishwasher to run after you leave for work, at midmorning, because you know it’s going to be sunny and it’s going to cost you nothing to run. The washing machine might be the same. It just depends on what individual needs are.”

“We’re in western Sydney, Kellyville Ridge,” Pfitzner continued. “It hit 49 degrees here one day. So you’re going to use it.”

Based on a national audit, nearly 7,000 solar batteries have been installed in Australian homes since they became available. While these units remain expensive—many costs between $8,000 and $10,000—prices have been falling. Also, based on Pfitzner’s report, this cost should pay for itself in just a few years. The second generation, the Tesla Powerwall 2 will soon be available in the country.

Investing in Australian solar right now is a downright good idea. With increased competition in the private sector, production costs have sharply fallen, and the market base is ready to buy.

The Climate Council’s State of Solar 2016 report was published last week, stating that solar is now the cheapest source of large-scale power generation. Plants are currently generating power at $110/MWh, a figure that is down from 2012 and is expected to continue to fall.

20 new solar power plants are currently planned around the country, said Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie, according to ABC Australia. “In Australia, solar is now cheaper than new fossil fuels and nuclear energy,” McKenzie said, “and that’s been a big shift in the last few years.”

“In the pipeline, we’re seeing another 3,700 megawatts of solar energy coming online in the next few years, so that’s roughly equivalent to powering 600,000 households.”

On the 13th, the largest solar investment plan of its kind was announced. Backed by the German investment group Wirsol, Edify Energy has reached a deal with the federal government and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to spend $230 million on solar farms in Queensland and Victoria.

Mark Hogan, the managing director at Wirsol Energy, reflected on the deal, saying “This transaction firmly positions Wirsol as one of Australia’s leading renewable investors. We will continue building on this success by working alongside our trusted partners to fulfill our goals of deploying at least a further 500 MW of solar in Australia by 2020.”

Despite Turnbull’s government, their hostile stance toward green energy, and South Australia’s recent announcement to make a break from the national energy plan, the subsector of solar energy is thriving. With a few years, Australians should expect both lower costs for household solar, along with more solar-generated energy in the grid.