Solar power in Australia is a fast growing industry. As of September 2019, Australia’s over 2.2 million solar PV installations had a combined capacity of 13,904 MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power, of which 3,290 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 being considered 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.
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.
Growth accelerated dramatically during 2018 in both rooftop distributed solar and utility-scale solar which became a significant component by the end of the year
By year end 2018, Australia had 1.96 million residential rooftop solar systems and 78,000 commercial and industrial rooftop solar systems, for a total of 2.04 million total rooftop PV systems. Over 200,000 were installed in 2018 alone and the country was on track to install as many again in 2019. Australia leads the world in residential uptake of solar, with a nation-wide average of free-standing households with a PV system at over 20%. By early 2020, Australia had 10.7 GW of rooftop solar in 2.4 million systems.
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.