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Australia’s increasing PV power

by EcoGeneration — July/August 2009

Australia’s PV power market grew substantially in 2008, bringing Australia’s total installed capacity to 104.5 MW. The figures come from a key report into Australia’s photovoltaic (PV) power market – National Survey Report of PV Power Applications in Australia 2008, prepared by Dr Muriel Watt on behalf of the Australian PV Association (APVA) and published in May this year. The report found an 80 per cent increase in total megawatts (MW) of installed PV above 2007 levels, with 22.02 MW of PV installed from 1 January to 31 December last year.

Grid-connected systems (a system installed to provide power to a grid-connected customer and able to supply power directly to the electricity grid) accounted for 69 per cent of installed capacity in 2008. These system installations increased from 6 MW in 2007 to 14.8 MW in 2008. The increase was driven by the availability of high capital grants; particularly the Federal Government’s Solar Homes and Communities Program (SHCP).

The report found that the SHCP had the most impact on the PV market in Australia during 2008. Of the 12.2 MW of installed PV (and grants of $68.4 million), the majority (12.1 MW) was for grid-connected installations. A total of 27 MW of PV was installed under the program by the end 2008.

The high PV uptake rates through the SHCP saw a significant increase in employment within the market. In particular, there was a ‘rapid’ rise in the accreditation of electricians and other installers for system distribution and installation jobs. These jobs totalled an estimated 2,900 in 2008. The scheme was wound up on 9 June and is to be replaced with the Solar Credits scheme, on passage of the extended Renewable Energy Target (RET) legislation.

While the grid connect market represented the largest PV sub-market in Australia in 2008, off-grid installations for industrial and agricultural applications still account for the majority of Australia’s installed capacity. Significant markets also exist for off-grid residential and commercial power supplies and increasingly, for peak-load reduction on remote community diesel systems. Across the PV sub-markets, approximately 6.72 MW was installed as off-grid (domestic or non-domestic) systems and 15.12 MW was installed as grid-connected (distributed or central power station) systems. Diesel grid systems accounted for 305 kW of installed capacity in 2008.

PV production
42 MW of cells was produced in Australia in 2008 from imported wafers and 8 MW of modules. BP Solar was the sole manufacturer of PV in Australia in 2008. While the company will close its manufacturing of Australian PV cell and module lines this year, the report states that a number of companies have indicated their interest in manufacturing locally. Since the report was released, Silex has announced it will take over the BP plant and commence manufacturing in 2010, albeit on a smaller scale.

The report noted the industry’s reliance on imported products – such as wafers, modules and inverters – as affecting Australia’s module and cell manufacturing capabilities, reducing opportunities for local uptake of Australian R&D, increasing vulnerability to exchange rates and lowering the market’s overall business value.

The report encourages Australian cell and module manufacturing, stating: “The current tight finance markets may delay plans [for local companies to begin manufacturing operations], but it is hoped that at least one of these companies will be in a position to commence production by 2010.”

The importance of balance of system (BOM) component manufacture and supply was also noted, with Australian companies producing PV inverters and storage batteries.

Module prices remained steady in 2008, averaging $8/watt peak (Wp) and small grid systems averaging $12Wp. Off-grid system prices ranged from $18-30 for systems up to 1 kW and from $15-22Wp for larger off-grid systems.  However, the report noted a greater spread of prices in 2008, a noticeable drop in minimum prices and a move to bulk purchase arrangements.

In 2008, government expenditure on PV research, development, demonstration, and market incentives totalled $117.91million. Federal Government schemes, primarily the SHCP rebates and the Remote Power Generation Program, accounted for 88 per cent of this investment.  The report highlights the research and development achievements in 2008 of several institutions around Australia, including the award of the DuPont Innovation Award to researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University.

The report also recognised the achievements of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics and Photonics at the University of New South Wales, the “strong and well organised” research into organic PV, the work of the Research Institute for Sustainable Energy at Murdoch University, and the developments in Dye Solar Cells by Australian company Dyesol.

Future prospects
2009 will see a major change to the Australian government PV support programs, with the SHCP ending, and support for small systems moving to the market price based mechanism of the RET, and RRPGP funds being used up. However, the new Solar Flagship program promises large scale PV systems within the next five years and the Solar Cities and Solar Schools programs are gaining momentum. The PV market has already moved from a ‘green’ purchaser to a more ‘mainstream’ customer market and innovations in system deployment and financing are emerging. At the same time, PV prices continue to fall on the international market and local electricity and diesel prices are increasing, so the prospects for PV remain strong.

Dr Muriel Watt is Project Manager at IT Power Australia.
Dr Watt prepared the PV Power Applications Report 2008 on behalf of the APVA.