Australia installs more solar power than Germany... again!

It may come as a surprise to many, but Australia installed more solar power than Germany in 2011. Australia set a similar accomplishment in 2010 too, and looks on track to do so again in 2012. So why aren't we hearing more news about this Australian solar success?

Well, as far as headline totals go, Australia falls far short of Germany's 7481 MW of PV installations in 2011: Australia installed a respectable but long-distant 837 MW last year. But the principle reason for this was the near-complete absence of any utility-scale installations due to the lack of supportAustralian federal and state governments. As a consequence, 815MW of Australia's PV installations were less than 100kW in size; of which there was 58 MW of domestic off-grid installations and 757MW of grid connected installations. 96% of Australian capacity in this range is below 10kW in size -  804 MW. Germany installed 759 MW in this range. SunWiz previously reported that Australia installed more sub-10kW systems than Germany in 2010 (but still fell short in terms of MW in this category); it will certainly have beaten Germany on both accounts in 2011.

On the strength of its residential sector, Australia ranked 8th in capacity installed in 2010, and ranked 7th in 2011, highly respectable for a nation with only three systems over 1 MW. These figures mean Australia could easily be the worlds largest market for residential PV. To provide some context, US heavyweight Sungevity (who recently partnered with Australian company Nickel Energy to bring its RoofJuice solar leasing model to Australia) has reported figures of 4000 systems sold and installed 4.7MW in 2010; by comparison Australia's largest installer installed 12 MW in a single month. The image below shows the distribution of system sizes in Australia, which have grown from 1kW average to the now rest above 2.5kW.

Distribution of Australian solar system size

Significant implications for the world

Australia may largely lack the commercial and utility-scale market that has propelled the likes of Germany, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic to the gigawatt-per-year club. But such nations have faced overnight industry shut-down. As Bloomberg New Energy Finance showed, Australia is one of the first countries to have reached residential 'socket parity'; ahead of much of the world has yet to do so. Australia has also showed that in spite of massive cuts to government support, residential solar can survive without premium feed-in tariffs when solar power is primarily used on-site. With 'socket parity' reached for small businesses, and tantalisingly close for large business, Australia's commercial market is set to grow organically, free from the distortions of solar-specific government incentives. As government incentives are wound-back around the world, Australia offers a glimpse of the future solar markets that will emerge internationally.

Growth in Australian PV has also caught the eye of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which this week released a paper drawing upon a report commissioned from SunWiz forecasting PV uptake. Both forecasts are subsets of the nation-wide Australian PV forecast produced by SunWiz and SolarBusinessServices, excluding PV in Western Australia and utility-scale systems.

Australian PV Forecast solar

Australian solar statistics are drawn from the PV In Australia report released this week by the Australian PV Association, which used data collated by SunWiz in its Australian PV Insights monthly subscription, supplemented by data released by the Clean Energy Regulator.