Commercial and industrial projects took off last year as the economics of solar made commitment look like common sense, writes Landon Kahn at Todae Solar.

Last year was a watershed for commercial and industrial solar. Record numbers of systems were installed, numerous top tier organisations invested heavily in the clean energy solution and the big banks stood up and took notice of this burgeoning sector.

According to SunWiz Consulting, the commercial and industrial (C&I) solar sector accounted for 32% of all installations under the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme last year – almost a 20% increase from 2015. Based on the SunWiz analysis, Todae Solar ended the year as the largest commercial installer (for a second year in a row), installing more than 6MW in the C&I space alone.

Another impressive statistic for the year was the record number of 100kW systems installed nationally. In December alone fifty-six 100kW systems were installed – the previous record was around 34 in a calendar month.

A number of factors contributed to 2016 being a standout year in the C&I space: significant reductions in solar module component costs, strong Large-scale Generation Certificate (LGC) market prices, increasing energy prices nationally and improved installation techniques and economies of scale among installers.

On top of these external factors there was an increased general comfort and awareness by business owners that solar makes commercial sense as a tool to reduce overheads.

The sun makes sense

This alignment of economic factors led to a number of tier one organisations committing to commercial solar for the first time, with pilot programs and a sprinkling of large-scale systems. Aegis Aged Care (pictured above) completed the installation of a 3.24MW rollout, Adelaide Airport added a 1.17MW system to expand its capacity and St Vincent’s Health moved forward with a 2.7MW rollout. In addition, Mirvac, AstraZeneca (pictured below), Kmart, Woolworths, Pernod Ricard, AusPost and many more large organisations proceeded with the renewable energy technology.

It wasn’t just corporates who drove forward with solar – prominent universities also moved closer to energy self-sufficiency. In NSW, Charles Sturt University announced it will be installing a 1.77MW system at its main campus in Wagga Wagga; the University of Technology Sydney planned for a 105kW pilot system in Ultimo; and north of the border the University of Southern Queensland signed off on 1.9MW of solar across its campuses.

Another shift in the market saw the emergence of more financiers that are geared specifically towards commercial solar. This includes the Big Four Australian banks, which have finally started to take notice and are actively looking to fund C&I projects.

All these factors combined to make 2016 an impressive year in the C&I solar space. The mood in the industry as 2017 kicks into gear is upbeat, with an even bigger year expected. It seems the sleeping giant of commercial and industrial solar has finally woken up.