I asked a solar analyst colleague -- call him Krishna -- about the solar situation in Australia. Krishna, uncharacteristically, had very little to say. It was a region that, up until now, could afford to be ignored. Even with the technological solar powerhouse of the University of New South Wales in the house.

That looks to be changing.

The grid-connected market in Australia grew more than 480 percent in 2010, from 73 megawatts to 379 megawatts, according to the Australian National PV Status Report (see chart below). This was driven by the country's Solar Homes and Communities program, solar credits, feed-in tariffs, PV price drops, and a favorable dollar exchange rate.

Most of the solar incentives have been aimed at small-scale residential systems, but that looks to be changing as well.

There have been three large solar announcements in the past few months, one of which was just made this week.

  • The first utility-scale PV project in Australia, the Greenough River Solar Farm, is underway, and it's being built to offset the energy usage of a seawater desalination plant. The 10-megawatt (AC) project will use 150,000 First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) panels and is targeted to be operational in mid-2012. State-owned power utility Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services will each own half of the power plant. First Solar will provide EPC and O&M services. Western Australia requires new desalination plants to use power obtained from renewable sources.  
  • The Australian Government picked a consortium led by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) to develop, build and operate a 150-megawatt solar PV facility in New South Wales, the Moree Solar Farm. Consortium partners include BP Solar and Pacific Hydro. Independent power producer FRV is the majority shareholder and BP Solar is the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor.
  • Areva Solar announced the Solar Dawn project which, at 250 megawatts, will be the largest solar-natural gas hybrid plant in the world when completed (it uses the same CLFR solar thermal technology demonstrated at Areva's Bakersfield, California Kimberlina plant -- technology that came from Areva's acquisition of Ausra). In April, Areva North America CEO Jacques Besnainou told Greentech Media that big deals were on the way.  Solar Dawn will blend AREVA Solar’s CLFR solar steam generators with a gas boiler back-up, allowing it to provide around-the-clock power. (We've looked at the hybrid approach before.)

 

Australia is the former home of solar chimney aspirant Enviromission and the current home of resuscitated HCPV firm Solar Systems.

 

Cumulative PV Installations in Australia (From the Australian National PV Status Report)

Annual PV Installation in Australia

Tags: areva, australia, bp, first solar, frv, fslr, ge energy financial services, hybrid power plant, pv panels, solar, utility scale, utility scale power plants, utility scale solar power, utility-scale power plant, utility-scale renewables