Two sets of research this past week have confirmed that a second rooftop solar boom is well underway in Australia, driven by the rapidly improving economics of PV panels and storage, and by the rapidly worsening state of retail electricity prices.
The first, a survey whose results were published by Roy Morgan on Thursday, shows that on average almost one in four Australian households (23.2 per cent) own a “Home Solar Electric Panel”, as at March 2017.
Uptake is shown to be strongest in South Australia, at 32.8 per cent; then Queensland, at 30.2 per cent; and Western Australia, at 26.6 per cent.
The second report, from industry analyst Sunwiz, revealed that Australia had enjoyed another bumper month for rooftop solar installations in June, with 93MW installed on homes and businesses, taking the total for the six months to June to a record 475MW.
The Sunwiz data shows that Australia now has 5.83GW of rooftop solar installed on 1.71 million homes and businesses. Queensland leads the way with 1.77GW – bigger in capacity than the state’s largest coal fired generator, and is reporting another 3,000 requests in the past month alone.
But more importantly, the six month to June 2017 tally – which was higher than the peak of the premium-feed-in tariffs in 2012 and 2013 – indicates a growing realisation that one great option to deal with the cost of the fossil-fuel dominated grid is to install rooftop solar.
Indeed, electricity prices that have again jumped – this time by around 20 per cent from July 01 – the decision is rapidly becoming a no-brainer, even without high feed-in tariffs, and even if you are sending the majority of your rooftop generated electricity back to the grid.
As we reported last month, data shows that even for a working couple, with no battery storage, and with 70 per cent of their solar generation being exported, the payback period for a 5kW solar system could be as short as five years.
Add just a little bit of effort, perhaps increasing self-consumption to around 45 per cent, and you can get close to four years payback on a 5kW system almost anywhere in the country.
And with increasingly cheap battery storage rapidly coming into the equation – and potentially game-changing new battery storage installation offers such as that just launched by Germany giant Sonnen – the numbers for rooftop solar look better and better.
These are the sort of economics that the head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Audrey Zibelman, referred to repeatedly in an address in Melbourne on Tuesday, as being one of the major drivers of the changing shape of the grid, alongside policy.
“Frankly, this organic growth that I’m talking about – the cost of wind going down, the cost of solar going down the cost of batteries going down, customer preference around rooftop solar – that’s driving all of these changes as much as policy right now, so we just need to deal with it anyway,” Zibelman said on the sidelines of the CEDA Energy Market Outlook event.
Zibelman’s call to “get on with” the raft of necessary market adaptations and reforms to facilitate this shift, at least cost to consumer, is underscored by concerns that further delay will lead to unplanned outcomes that are not to the benefit of all.
A key example of such an unwanted outcome is households – and particularly new ones – using rooftop solar and storage to go off the grid or bypass it altogether, to avoid not just rising electricity supply prices, but the increase in service and demand charges being used to recover retailer costs.
“These clients are telling me that they don’t want to pay those prices to connect a smart meter, and still be held hostage to ever-increasing service charges,” said solar installer Andrew McCarthy in last week’s One Step story, As one home heads off grid… many more are choosing not to connect.
AEMO’s Zibelman is aware of this customer-market disconnect, and sees fixing it as one of her organisation’s key jobs, especially considering the key role she expects behind the meter solar and storage to play in the overall security and functioning of the grid.
“Certainly, I think it’s going to be very very critical as we move forward that we regain confidence in these markets,” she said on Tuesday.
“And we have to start with: What do consumers care about? They care about having a reliable system, and they care about the total bill.
“There’s no way around this but to work through these (key issues), get the market design right, and move on, And I think the faster we can go and the faster we can get it done, the better off we all are.”