Australia, which is one of the world leaders in household rooftop solar panel adoption, has set a new record for the number of solar panels installed in a single year. According to an estimate by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, installations increased by nearly 30% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The data comes from Australia’s Renewable Energy Regulator, a national body charged with lowering carbon emissions and accelerating the use of clean energy. It was collected by energy efficiency experts and published in a CSIRO release.
Data from Australia’s Renewable Energy Regulator, a national body charged with lowering carbon emissions and accelerating the use of clean energy, was gathered by energy efficiency experts and published in a CSIRO release.
It reveals that, while their federal representatives lag behind on climate change, ordinary Australians are doubling down on renewable energy, installing more rooftop solar panels than ever before and increasing the scale of their rooftop arrays.
“Sustained low technology costs, increased work from home arrangements and a shift in household spending to home improvements during COVID-19 played a key role in the increase of rooftop solar PV systems under the SRES,” said Clean Energy Regulator senior executive Mark Williamson, referring to a national scheme in Australia that allows homeowners and small businesses to recoup some of the costs of installing solar panels on their roofs.
The record-breaking year is just another in a long line of record-breaking years for the sun-drenched nation, which has seen renewable energy installations grow year after year as the cost of renewables has decreased. Rooftop solar installations increased by nearly 60% in 2018 compared to 2017.
“Australia is one of the sunniest places on the planet,” said Michael Ambrose, a senior experimental scientist at CSIRO who led the CSIRO analysis, which mirrors a separate annual assessment of the Australian rooftop solar market conducted by consultancy firm SunWiz.
“We lead the world in PV capacity on a per capita basis at 591 watts per person which is almost eight times the worldwide average,” he said.
Photovoltaics, or PV, is what scientists commonly refer to as solar panels, which are made of solar cells stacked together to capture the Sun’s energy and convert it to electricity. The amount of electricity a solar system can produce at its peak is referred to as its capacity.
“The [latest] solar PV installation data shows how quickly PV systems have been taken up across Australia and the increasing size of the PV arrays,” Ambrose said.
The CSIRO analysis used data from Australia’s federal Clean Energy Regulator, which showed that a record-high 362,000 solar panels were installed and certified under the scheme for small-scale renewables in 2020.
At the end of the year, Australia had over 2.68 million rooftop solar systems on houses, implying that one out of every four households is now soaking up sunlight and turning it to electricity.
And, based on early data, the country’s rooftop solar capacity is only expected to increase, with installations already trending higher in 2021.
Despite the fanfare, there are more pressing issues to address: can Australia’s ageing electricity network handle the massive influx of solar energy – it’s outdated and in desperate need of upgrading – and can solar panels combined with household batteries keep the grid stable and bolster electricity supplies in the event of severe weather, such as lightning strikes.
Many small Australian communities have recognized this opportunity after experiencing power outages while battling fire fronts during the country’s destructive ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, and are taking matters into their own hands by going off-grid and building their own standalone solar-powered systems.
When we take a step back, however, some analysts believe Australia is lagging behind other renewable-energy pioneers like Germany.
Australia could be constructing new renewable energy systems, including massive solar arrays and wind farms, at a per capita pace ten times faster than the global average, in recent years. But it also trails behind other countries in the overall amount of electricity it produces from renewables.
“Denmark is generating about two-thirds of its electricity from renewables – non-hydro renewables – and it has a population a fifth of Australia, so their per capita annual generation is many times that of Australia, and similarly for Scotland,” said UNSW Sydney renewable energy expert Mark Diesendorf in early 2021 to the Australian Associated Press.
Solar cell researchers have been exploring new-fangled configurations with materials other than silicon that can absorb more sections of the light spectrum and could be used to make more powerful solar cells – and they’ve been smashing records after records.
There’s nothing like a good dose of rivalry.