The RET seeks to encourage investment with both large- and small-scale initiatives. “In 2018,” the report sets out, “it became certain that the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target of 33,000 gigawatt hours will be achieved in 2020.” This is certainly a piece of good news, however, not at all surprising. Coupled with fact that the RET was scaled back by the Abbott Government, it’s far from stellar.
However, the most buoying finding of the report is no doubt the recognition that during 2018, or, more precisely, between May and December of 2018, commercial factors overtook government incentives as the strongest driver of large-scale renewable investment. CER Chair David Parker attributed the megawatts that broke the camel’s back were brought online or announced in this period, some 3766 MW.
“The transformation of Australia’s electricity grid is accelerating. Australia is installing solar and wind so fast that it is now leading the world in per capita deployment rate for renewables, overtaking Germany and the United Kingdom,” said Parker.
The report further acknowledged other contributing factors to the commercial acceleration, from the increasing number of power purchase agreements from both retailers and corporates; the record level of new construction combined with ongoing technology cost reductions; state and territory incentive schemes; and a “greater diversification in the finance models of new project developers, with some international participants not needing to raise debt finance in Australia.” The attraction of international investors amounting to “further evidence that the market is maturing.”
A wide-ranging international survey by Sydney headquartered MinterEllison supports this notion as it found the activities of international investors in the Australian renewable market would increase in the next two years.
Of course, the report didn’t fail to mention the ‘headwinds’ being provided by grid and connection constraints, as well as adjusted Marginal Loss Factors. These ‘headwinds’ are frontal in the public discourse at just the point when market forces have finally taken the driver’s seat in the renewable energy transition – at least in terms of large wind and solar projects – the limitations of the pre-existing energy network seem to be foreshortening the road forward.
Of course, electricity infrastructure is being continually upgraded with a mind to the energy transition. The continual fine tuning may be the only feasible solution to the transition’s negotiation of the ‘headwinds’, after all, “The unique size and shape of Australia’s National Electricity Market means the rapid transformation of the energy supply requires complex management.” Much of the ability of the electricity market to become flexible enough to incorporate the rapidly growing renewable share is dependent on advances such as solar thermal, hydrogen and biomass based systems. Significant price reductions for large scale battery storage is here too likely to play a role.
Overall, the CER report finds that in 2018 5 GW of renewable capacity was installed, inclusive of record-breaking 1.5 GW of small-scale solar PV, bringing the cumulative national total to more than 8.1 GW made up of 3.1 million installations. “Consumers are becoming more informed about their options,” said Parker. “We continue to see growth in rooftop PV for households and businesses, even as the level of the support from subsidies under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme gradually decreases between now and when the scheme ends in 2030.”
The average size of small-scale solar PV systems continued its increase during 2018, up by 11% from 6.4 kW in 2017 to 7.1 kW in 2018. However, it must be noted that it is mid-size solar PV systems that are being seen as the commercial accelerant that has produced the pivotal economic swing. “In 2018 there was a 34% increase in the number of mid-scale solar PV systems installed, and a 44% increase in the capacity of these systems, compared with 2017.” The range of mid-size systems now sits at 15 kW – 5 MW.
Mid-range systems have also been found to be perfect for the repurposing and/or hybridisation of farm properties, in this regard the report lauded the commercial activities of Yates Electrical Services.
Last month pv magazine Australia spoke with Mark Yates of Yates Electrical Services: “…one of the main drivers for our business is to introduce solar farming – to reutilise and repurpose the land. This saw the introduction of new markets to our area, not only did it generate regional job opportunities but it assisted farmers in diversifying their farming practise – ultimately mitigating the risk and sole dependence on water.”
The bigger picture
“The transition of Australia’s electricity sector to renewables is proceeding apace with more capacity per capita being installed in Australia than any other country,” said Parker.
With such rapid acceleration it’s easy to get caught up in details, but CER restates its mission in the report, that it is focused on engendering a strong sense of compliance and integrity in the industry. The CER points to its industry collaboration for the implantation of the Solar Panel Validation Initiative, as an example of just one way in which the industry will be kept on its toes regarding quality and integrity of service as more Australians turn to solar PV.
For more information, or to read the report in full, see here.