Batteries, Commercial, Renewables, Residential, Solar

Australia’s record summer of rooftop solar

Recently released data shows small-scale PV flourished during the summer of 2022-2023 to compound a year of growth for the sector, writes EcoGeneration editor Gavin Dennett.

Australia may be cooling down as winter approaches, but the nation is still basking from the glow of the recent record summer of solar, in which small-scale rooftop PV supplied more electricity than brown coal.

In the summer of 2022-2023, rooftop solar provided a record 14 per cent of Australia’s energy needs, dispatching more electricity to the grid than all other renewable sources, including grid-scale wind farms and solar farms.

“There is no doubt with inflation and cost-of-living pressures, people are turning to rooftop solar in record numbers,” says Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton.

“Thousands of Australians are switching to rooftop solar and seeing the benefits to their hip pockets and the environment. In fact, payback periods for rooftop solar are now at near record-low levels, at 3.4 years for a 7kW system.

“We’re seeing a fundamental shift – consumers are becoming energy generators, making their own clean energy, reducing their bills and taking on the electricity companies.”

Making this summer PV figure even more impressive is it only measures the energy that entered the grid.

“Even more clean, low-cost generation was produced and used by households, taking pressure off our strained system,” says Thornton.

The total output for the 2022-2023 summer’s rooftop solar was 8046GWh, up 19.5 per cent on the same period the previous year.

Across the summer, NSW boasted the greatest improvement, with a 30.5 per cent rise in GWh production compared to the same period in 2021-2022. This was followed by South Australia with a rise of 18.5 per cent, although that state made the most significant contribution to overall solar generation in Australia, with 27.6 per cent.

Bumper year for solar

The record summer of solar came on the back of a significant year for small-scale PV in 2022.

In the Clean Energy Council’s “Clean Energy Australia Report”, released in April 2023, it outlines how 310,352 new rooftop solar systems – accounting for 2.7GW of capacity – was added to the grid in 2022, nearly the same capacity as the coalfired Eraring Power Station in Lake Macquarie, NSW.

In 2022, rooftop solar accounted for 25.8 per cent of total Australian renewable energy generation.

“Rooftop solar is playing a massive role in decarbonising the Australian energy grid and putting us on the path to 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030,” says Thornton.

“While much of the political and big policy debates are taking place for other renewable energy industries – all of which are vitally important – rooftop solar has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting.”

Approximately 3.4 million Australian homes enjoy the benefits of rooftop solar – there are around 2.5 solar panels installed for every Australian – with the average solar system size increasing year-on-year, rising from 8.79kW in 2021 to 8.84kW in 2022.

“There were challenges for the industry in 2022, but our workforce showed its resilience in the face of higher polysilicon prices, a reduction in subsidies and other supply chain issues,” says Thornton.

“The number of Clean Energy Council-accredited designers and installers also continued to grow for the seventh year running, with 8988 individuals demonstrating industry best practice standards, producing safe, reliable systems and meeting customer expectations.

“If Australia is chasing a target of 82 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030, the good news is rooftop solar is adding around 3.5TWh per year. The challenge is to maintain this pace right through to 2030.

“Low-cost renewable power and energy storage will ultimately ease cost-of-living pressures and help set up Australia for a more prosperous future with greater energy security.”

The Clean Energy Council has also released a list of Australia’s top postcodes for rooftop solar in 2022, based on Clean Energy Regulator data. The best performed regions in each state were:

  • NSW: Lismore.
  • Queensland: Bundaberg.
  • South Australia: Salisbury.
  • Victoria: Hoppers Crossing.
  • Tasmania: Blackstone Heights.
  • Western Australia: Mandurah.

Large-scale solar boom

Energy industry consultancy SunWiz released its “2023 Annual SunWiz Australian PV Report” in early 2023, which shows the nation’s overall solar industry also enjoyed record peaks in a stellar 2022.

According to the report, the amount of new solar power installed in Australia in 2022 was 5.3GW – a 20 per cent rise of installed capacity in just one year.

Much of the credit for the sharp growth in total solar was due to the commencement of operations of three solar farms, each exceeding 200MW in scale: Western Downs Green Power Hub and Woolooga Solar Farm, both in Queensland, and Port Augusta Renewable Energy Park in South Australia.

“Australia should be proud of its world-leading solar uptake,” says SunWiz managing director Warwick Johnston. “Installing solar power continues to be a smart way to offset power bills and combat the effects of high inflation upon household budgets. Solar power is now one of the nation’s largest energy sources.”

In its report, SunWiz notes the volume of solar deployed in 2022 was only two per cent higher than in 2021 – buoyed by large solar farms coming online – with a slow start to the year contributing to a downturn in commercial and residential installs, but the second half of the year redeeming the early months with significant growth.

The slow start to 2022 is attributed to people shifting attention away from home improvement projects following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, however the spike in electricity prices saw interest in rooftop solar installations resume from midyear onwards.

This record year for solar farms offset an overall contraction in rooftop PV, meaning 2022 wound up with the market being practically steady – although the two per cent increase in total deployment enables the industry to claim 2022 as a record year.

However, with the total volume of solar farms under construction easing, 2023 will almost certainly be a year of contraction in the sector, meaning more work needs to be done.

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