Solar power in Australia is a fast growing industry. As of June 2019, Australia’s over 2.15 million solar PV installations had a combined capacity of 12,959 MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power, of which 3,819 MW were installed in the preceding 12 months. In 2019, 59 solar PV projects with a combined capacity of 2,881 MW were either under construction, constructed or due to start construction having reached financial closure. Solar accounted for 5.2% (or 11.7 TWh) of Australia’s total electrical energy production (227.8 TWh) in 2018.
The sudden rise in Solar PV installations in Australia since 2018 dramatically propelled the country from a relative laggard to a strong contender in Solar PV development by mid 2019. With an installed photovoltaic capacity of 12,959 MW as of June 2019, Australia ranks among the world’s top ten solar countries by capacity and ranks second on a watts per capita basis with 459 watts per capita to Germany with 548 watts per capita.
The installed PV capacity in Australia increased 10-fold between 2009 and 2011, and quadrupled between 2011 and 2016.
The first commercial-scale PV power plant, the 1 MW Uterne Solar Power Station, was opened in 2011.
Greenough River Solar Farm opened in 2012 with a capacity of 10 MW.
The price of photovoltaics has been decreasing, and in January 2013, was less than half the cost of using grid electricity in Australia.
Australia has historically been internationally criticised for producing very little of its energy from solar power, despite its vast resources, extensive sunshine and overall high potential.
Cumulative capacity – End of year cumulative installed PV capacity in megawatts since 2001 (Updated to June 2019).
The largest share of Solar PV installations in 2018 was from grid connected distributed sources totalling 8,030 MW. These are rooftop systems in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. For the purposes of the data residential grid connect are systems <9,5 kW, commercial are systems between 9.5 and 99,9 kW and industrial are 100 kW to 5 MW.
Grid connected centralised plants was the next largest sector in 2018 with 3,272 MW installed, representing utility scale ground mounted solar with a power rating > 5 MW.
Off-grid solar PV was the smallest segment at 284 MW in 2018.
Solar potential in Australia
The combination of Australia’s dry climate and latitude give it high benefits and potential for solar energy production. Most of the Australian continent receives in excess of 4 kilowatt-hours (14 MJ) per square metre per day of insolation during winter months, with a region in the north exceeding 6 kilowatt-hours (22 MJ) per square metre per day. Australia’s insolation greatly exceeds the average values in Europe, Russia, and most of North America. Comparable levels are found in desert areas of northern and southern Africa, south western United States and adjacent area of Mexico, and regions on the Pacific coast of South America. However, the areas of highest insolation are distant to Australia’s population centres.
According to The Institute for Sustainable Futures, the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia has the potential to install 179 GW of solar power on roofs across the nation.
Even with Australia newly emerged as being amongst the world leaders in solar uptake, the study found that as of June 2019 Australia was using less than 5% of the potential capacity for rooftop solar. The study found that the combined annual output from rooftop solar could theoretically reach 245 TWh, more than the current annual grid consumption of just under 200 TWh per year. 
The Solar Homes and Communities Plan was a rebate provided by the Australian Government of up to A$8,000 for installing solar panels on homes and community use buildings (other than schools). This rebate was phased out on 8 June 2009, to be replaced by the Solar Credits Program, where an installation of a solar system would receive 5 times as many Renewable Energy Certificates for the first 1.5 kilowatts of capacity under the Renewable Energy Target (see below).
Schools were eligible to apply for grants of up to A$50,000 to install 2 kW solar panels and other measures through the National Solar Schools Program beginning on 1 July 2008, which replaced the Green Vouchers for Schools program. Applications for the program ended 21 November 2012. A total of 2,870 schools have installed solar panels. The output of each array can be viewed, and compared with that of up to four other schools.
Main article: Feed-in tariffs in Australia
A number of states have set up schemes to encourage the uptake of solar PV power generation involving households installing solar panels and selling excess electricity to electricity retailers to put into the electricity grid, widely called “feed-in”. Each scheme involves the setting of feed in tariffs, which can be classified by a number of factors including the price paid, whether it is on a net or gross export basis, the length of time payments are guaranteed, the maximum size of installation allowed and the type of customer allowed to participate. Many Australian state feed-in tariffs were net export tariffs, whereas conservation groups argued for gross feed-in tariffs. In March 2009, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) started a solar gross feed-in tariff. For systems up to 10 kW the payment was 50.05 cents per kWh. For systems from 10 kW to 30 kW the payment was 40.04 cents per kWh. The payment was revised downward once before an overall capacity cap was reached and the scheme closed. Payments are made quarterly based on energy generated and the payment rate is guaranteed for 20 years.
In South Australia, a solar feed-in tariff was introduced for households and an educational program that involved installing solar PV on the roofs of major public buildings such as the Adelaide Airport, State Parliament, Museum, Art Gallery and several hundred public schools. In 2018, the Queensland government introduced the Affordable Energy Plan offering interest free loans for solar panels and solar storage in an effort to increase the uptake of solar energy in the state. In 2008 Premier Mike Rann announced funding for $8 million worth of solar panels on the roof of the new Goyder Pavilion at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds, the largest rooftop solar installation in Australia, qualifying it for official “power station” status. South Australia has the highest per capita take up of household solar power in Australia.
Main article: Energy policy of Australia § Renewable energy targets
In 2001, the Australian government introduced a mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) designed to ensure renewable energy achieves a 20% share of electricity supply in Australia by 2020. The MRET was to increase new generation from 9,500 gigawatt-hours to 45,000 gigawatt-hours by 2020. The MRET requires wholesale purchasers of electricity (such as electricity retailers or industrial operations) to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs), created through the generation of electricity from renewable sources, including wind, hydro, landfill gas and geothermal, as well as solar PV and solar thermal. The objective is to provide a stimulus and additional revenue for these technologies. The scheme was proposed to continue until 2030.
After the MRET was divided into large-scale and small-scale goals in 2011 and reductions by the Abbott government, Australia has a goal of 33,000 GWh of renewable energy from large sources by 2020, or 23.5% of electricity.
The Solar Flagships program sets aside $1.6 billion for solar power over six years. The government funding is for 4 new solar plants that produce coal plant scale power (in total up to 1000 MW – coal plants typically produce 500 to 2,000 MW). This subsidy would need additional funding from the plant builders and/or operators. As a comparison Abengoa Solar, a company currently constructing solar thermal plants, put the cost of a 300 MW plant at €1.2 billion in 2007. In 2009, the Arizona state government announced a 200 MW plant for US$1 billion.
Projects with a power rating less than 100 MW are not listed.
A 20 MWp solar power plant has been built on 50 hectares of land in Royalla, a rural part of the Australian Capital Territory south of Canberra. It is powered by 83,000 solar panels, and can power 4,400 homes. It was officially opened on 3 September 2014. It is the first solar plant facility in the Australian capital, and at the time of building the largest such plant in Australia. The facility was built by a Spanish company, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV).
The solar power stations at these three remote indigenous communities in Australia’s Northern Territory are constructed using Solar Systems’ CS500 concentrator dish systems. The project cost A$7M, offset by a grant from the Australian and Northern Territory Governments under their Renewable Remote Power Generation Program.
The project won a prestigious Engineering Excellence award in 2005.
The Federal Government has funded over 120 innovative small-scale standalone solar systems in remote indigenous communities, designed by Bushlight, incorporating sophisticated demand side management systems with user-friendly interfaces.
Over 2GW of solar farms were completed or under construction in Queensland as of 2018.
The 50 MW AC Kidston Solar Project has been built on the site of the Kidston Gold Mine. This is phase 1 of a planned solar energy and pumped storage combination. Kidston is owned by Genex and was constructed by UGL
The Lilyvale Solar Farm, with a capacity of 130 MW AC, is under construction by Spanish companies GRS and Acciona, after an EPC contract was signed with Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV). It will be located in Lilyvale, which is around 50 km northeast of Emerald, and commercial operations are expected to start in late 2018.
The Hamilton Solar Farm is a 69.0 MW DC single-axis tracking project located a few kilometres north of Collinsville in North Queensland. Its owners are Edify Energy and Wirsol. The solar farm came online in July 2018.
The Whitsunday Solar Farm is a 69.0 MW DC single-axis tracking project located a few kilometres north of Collinsville in North Queensland. Its owners are Edify Energy and Wirsol. The solar farm came online in July 2018.
There are 2 more solar projects under construction by Edify Energy in Collinsville due to come on line in late 2018. The Hayman Solar Farm which is a 60.0 MW DC single-axis tracking project and the Daydream Solar Farm which is a 180.0 MW DC single-axis tracking project.
Sundrop Farms concentrated solar power plant has a generating capacity of 40 MW, and is the first of its kind to be commissioned in the state. It was completed in 2016. A floating array of solar PV panels is in place at Jamestown wastewater treatment plant, with a generating capacity of 3.5 MW.
The largest rooftop solar PV array in South Australia was installed in 2017 at Yalumba Wine Company across three Barossa locations. Total generating capacity is 1.39 MW generating approximately 2,000 MWh per annum. Previous significant installations include Flinders University with 1.8MW across a solar carpark and building rooftops (it has announced plans for further investment to become carbon positive), Adelaide airport, with a generating capacity of 1.17 MW, and the Adelaide Showgrounds, with a generating capacity of 1 MW. The showgrounds array was the first PV station in Australia to reach a generating capacity of 1 MW and was expected to generate approximately 1,400 Megawatt-hours of electricity annually.
On 29 November 2017 the state government announced a new round of finance for renewable energy projects which included a Planet Arc Power – Schneider Electric development of a $13.9m solar PV and battery project at a major distribution centre in Adelaide’s North. The project includes a micro-grid management system optimising 5.7 MW of solar PV coupled with 2.9 MWh of battery storage. The University of South Australia will develop 1.8 MW of ground and roof mounted solar PV at its Mawson Lakes campus. At the Heathgate Resources Beverley mine there are plans for a relocatable 1 MW of solar PV paired with a 1 MW/0.5 MWh battery which will be integrated with an existing on-site gas power plant.
The Aurora Solar Thermal Power Project is proposed for near Port Augusta, on the north side of the town. Aurora has a contract to supply electricity to state government offices when it is completed in 2020. It is proposed to be a solar thermal facility providing thermal storage to be able to generate while the sun is not shining. Riverland Solar Storage has development approval to establish a photovoltaic solar power farm near Morgan. The developer expected it to begin operations in late 2018, but construction is now expected to begin in 2019.
The 100 MW PV Mildura Solar Concentrator Power Station, formerly expected to be completed in 2017, is now cancelled. It was expected to be the biggest and most efficient solar photovoltaic power station in the world. The power station was expected to concentrate the sun by 500 times onto the solar cells for ultra high power output. The Victorian power station would have generated electricity directly from the sun to meet the annual needs of over 45,000 homes with on-going zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The Gannawarra Solar Farm is a 60.0 MW DC single-axis tracking project located west of Kerang in north-west Victoria. It is the first large-scale solar farm to be constructed in Victoria.
Western Australia’s first major large scale solar farm, the Greenough River Solar farm, is at Walkaway, 70 km SE of Geraldton. It was opened in October 2012. The 10 MW field has 150,000 solar panels. The 20 MW Emu Downs solar farm became the largest solar farm in WA when opened in March 2018. Emu Downs solar farm is co-located with the Emu Downs Wind Farm. The proposed Asian Renewable Energy Hub would include 3,500 MW of solar power along with 7,500 MW of wind power.
Main article: Solar Cities in Australia
Solar Cities is a demonstration program designed to promote solar power, smart meters, and energy conservation in urban locations throughout Australia. One such location is Townsville, Queensland.
The Council of Sydney is attempting to make the city run 100% on renewable energy by 2030. This plan was announced earlier in 2014 with the blueprints made public on their
website. This ambitious plan was recently awarded the 2014 Eurosolar prize in the category of “Towns/municipalities, council districts and public utilities”.
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