Between taking in a kangaroo boxing match and surfing in shark-infested waters, it turns out a lot of Australians are also going solar.
According to new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in five Australian households, or 19 percent, now use solar energy for electricity or hot water. That’s up from about 5 percent in 2011, when the bureau first started publishing statistics on solar.
Of the 19 percent, 14 percent of households have rooftop PV. The remainder have solar thermal water heaters.
South Australia scored highest in solar panel adoption, with 24 percent of households there using solar electricity. Queensland followed with 20 percent, Western Australia with 16 percent and Victoria with 11 percent. In all other states and Tasmania, 7 percent to 10 percent of households use solar panels.
Australia wasn’t really on the solar map until about four years ago, when the country’s grid-connected market grew by more than 480 percent in 2010, from 73 megawatts to 379 megawatts, according to the Australian National PV Status Report.
In 2012, more than 1 gigawatt of solar PV systems were installed in Australia, bringing cumulative capacity of grid-connected systems to 2.45 gigawatts. That year, 10 percent of residential buildings had a PV system.
According to GTM Research, Australian PV installations were 810 megawatts in 2013. They are projected to be 650 megawatts in 2014.
The market has been driven by incentives under Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET), feed-in tariffs in some states and territories, and overall PV price drops.
Figure 1: Percentage of Australian Rooftops With Solar, 2014
Prime Minister Tony Abbott isn’t too keen on keeping this growth going, however. In October, the Abbott administration announced it plans to cut Australia’s renewable target to generate 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy per year by 2020, slashing it to about 26,000 gigawatt-hours per year.
According to opponents, the cuts could decimate billions of dollars in renewable energy investments. The government said the cut is needed to account for the overall decline in electricity demand, in part due to high electricity prices. Based on their projections, 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy would represent 27 percent of the overall market.
The new target is now making its way through the Australian parliament. But negotiations have been heated. Last month, they broke down completely when the Labor Party walked away from the talks.
According to a new poll sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, 89 percent of Australians support the original RET.
Meanwhile, the RET conflict has already started to chill Australia’s residential solar industry. Cuts to the RET would also hurt utility-scale projects. But on the bright side, the large projects currently in development (including those from ARENA and Clean Technology Finance Corp) will help to float the market through 2015, said GTM Research Analyst Adam James.
“Also, there is a distinct shift from residential systems to commercial systems that we expect to continue over the next few years,” said James.