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The Rise of Solar Industry in Australia

The rise and rise of rooftop solar PV has established Australia as a renewable energy powerhouse with new figures from the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) revealing the nation achieved a record in renewable capacity in 2020.

The latest figures provided by the CER show an estimated 7.0 GW of renewable energy capacity was installed in Australia last year, 11% higher than the previous record of 6.3 GW set in 2019.

The CER’s Quarterly Carbon Market Report for December 2020, which is expected to be released at the end of February, also shows that a record 53.6 TWh of electricity was generated into the National Electricity Market (NEM) – up 16% from the previous year.

The report also highlights that over the final quarter of 2020 the share of renewables in the NEM exceeded 30%.

Key to that record growth is the nation’s widespread acceptance of rooftop solar PV with the Australian Energy Council’s (AEC) latest Solar Report confirming record growth in solar PV capacity and installations during 2020.

AEC chief executive Sarah McNamara said despite the setbacks triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia’s rooftop solar PV market had been remarkably resilient with an additional 2.6 GW and 333,978 installations added to the grid during the year – both the capacity and installations are about 18% higher than 2019 (2.2GW and 284,000 installations).

McNamara said by the end of 2020 there were more than 2.66 million Australian homes and businesses with solar rooftops. This figure is expected to rise due to the fact that consumers have up to 12 months in which to register their installation.

“Overall, there was a noticeable dip in installations in April 2020 which marks the impact of COVID-19. Since then, the general trend has been for continued growth,” she said.

“New South Wales reported the highest monthly installations, while Queensland took over the second spot from Victoria in the last quarter of 2020.”

New South Wales led the way in 2020, recording a 36% increase in new installed capacity, adding 208 MW to the NEM.

Western Australia also saw remarkable growth, with a 24% increase in new installed capacity, adding 60 MW to Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM), while the number of new installations increased 22%.

The AEC said 2020 also marked a strong year for home battery installations with rooftop solar PV systems. Queensland, which led this trend in 2019 with 32% of market share for the year, was overtaken by South Australia in 2020 which claimed 42% of market share.

While the growth has given rise to some concerns, not least grid security, federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the latest figures cement Australia’s reputation as a renewable energy powerhouse.

Taylor said Australia has the highest uptake of solar in the world with one in four homes using it and the highest wind and solar capacity of any non-European country.

“In 2019, Australia deployed new renewable capacity at least 10 times faster per person than the global average and four times faster per person than China, Europe or the United States,” Mr Taylor said.

“In 2020, Australia invested $7.7 billion or $299 per person in renewable energy. This places us ahead of countries like Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States on a per-person basis.”

Strong investment in renewables is forecast to continue with Australia projected to deploy an additional 24 GW of rooftop solar by 2030, tripling the nation’s small-scale solar generating capacity over the decade.

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