A Million Solar Roofs in Australia Achieved in 5 Years

The Clean Energy Council recently announced that Australia has reached a significant milestone: one million rooftop solar PV power systems installed. More notable is the fact that just about all of these systems were installed in the past five years:

It is remarkable when you think that just five years ago in 2008 there were only about 20,000 systems installed across the entire country.

The solar industry currently employs over 8,000 Australians, and has led to billions of dollars in investment behind Australia’s 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target.

Solar is the Hills Hoist of the 21st Century.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive David Green - April 2013

How does that compare to other countries?

To put this in context, Germany achieved an equivalent installed capacity of around 2 gigawatts (GW) back in 2005. They now have well over 30 GW of solar PV panels installed. So there's still plenty of catching up to do, if that's what we're after.

How much is 2 GW anyway?

2 GW of power is the same amount generated by a very large nuclear or coal power station (with multiple generators at the one site). Unlike coal, solar PV doesn't do much at night, but that doesn't take away from the fact this is a very substantial contribution to our energy needs.

More importantly, the power generation is where we actually need it: distributed within the electricity network, not hundreds of kilometres away at a power station.

What policy got us here?

Unlike other countries (Japan, from memory) or US states (California) we didn't have "A Million Solar Roofs" policy to get here. Instead we had a hodgepodge state-by-state and federal policy mess. 

In fact, many PV policies in Australia have been too generous. Take for example the feed-in-tariff in NSW which gave homeowners 60 cents per kWh generated by their solar panels, regardless of whether that power was exported to the grid or not. Most of these 'over generous' policies have now been pared back, yet installations are still proceeding at a reasonable rate thanks to the global slump in solar panels prices. So some would say the policy mishmash has been successful after all.

The solar PV industry has employed an army of electricians and installers across the country. They've rolled out over 2 GW of installed capacity far faster than you can do with most other technologies (coal or nuclear, for example).

Now all we need to do is hit the repeat button.

Oh yeah, and actually become energy efficient, so we're not wasting all that precious sun-powered electricity!

- Ryan McCarthy


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