The South Australia solar market has suffered a dramatic downturn since the state poll in mid-March, with analysts and solar retailers blaming the policy uncertainty since the election of the Steve Marshall-led Liberal government.
Data from solar industry statistician SunWiz shows that the South Australia rooftop solar market fell by more than one third in April from 16MW to 10.8MW, with some solar retailers suffering big falls in orders and installations.
The Australia market overall suffered a fall in April – blamed on the Easter and Anzac Day holidays – to 109MW from 127MW in March, although 2018 remains a record year and this April comfortably beat the same month last year.
NSW continues to lead the market, with 30.6MW of installs, comfortably ahead of Queensland (25.1MW), Victoria (22MW), and West Australia (16.3MW). Another 4MW was installed in Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
But the fall in installations in the last month in South Australia was particularly pronounced – double the national average – even if the level of installations are also still well ahead of last year.
“We are hearing reports of sales volumes dropping considerably as people wait for the new South Australia government’s solar and storage policy to be implemented,” Sunwiz director Warwick Johnston noted in his report.
South Australia has 869MW of rooftop solar – located on more than 220,000 household and business rooftops – which provide for around seven per cent of the state’s annual demand, and are forecast to account for around 20 per cent in the future.
Installations have been booming this year – particularly in the business market which is finally waking up to the savings from rooftop solar, and from households which are looking to also install battery storage.
But confusion over the new government’s intentions have hit the market since Marshall said a day after the poll that he had no interest in pursuing the 260MW virtual power plant proposed by Tesla, which would provide solar and storage to 50,000 low income households.
The only part of that scheme to definitely go ahead is the 1,100 homes funded by the then Labor government.
It is unclear whether the rest of the Tesla proposal will go ahead, or if the Liberals will prefer their previous policy of grants to subsidise batteries to households already with solar.
There is also uncertainty about another plan to provide zero interest loans for solar and storage that would also see German battery storage manufacturer establish the first battery manufacturing plant in Australia in Adelaide.
Talks between government and company representatives took place last month, but there has been no word since.
It is understood that many other battery companies have also been knocking at the door since, interested in the government’s promise to hand out $100 million to install 40,000 batteries in homes. “We’ve had battery storage companies coming out of our ears,” says one insider.
Government officials admitted that it was likely that consumers were holding fire while waiting to see the contents of the new policy, and on battery storage in particular. That may come in May.
“Installations were lower in April across the country, and some installers have suggested that this is due to the number of holidays,” a spokesman for energy minister Dan can Holst Pellekaan said in an emailed statement.
“We’ve got strong interest in South Australia around the new Government’s $100 million commitment to 40,000 home batteries.
“We look forward to giving households more details about our support for batteries, and expect that will help them making the right decision for them around solar and storage.”
Since his early pronouncements on the Tesla virtual power plant, Marshall and the South Australia government have said little about energy policy, apart from a mention of nuclear.
Energy experts say that it makes little sense to turn to nuclear in a state that is already served more than 50 per cent by wind and solar, will likely get to around 70 per cent within 5 years, and whose minimum demand could be met just by rooftop solar within a few years.
A recent Deloitte survey noted that South Australia’s economy was running ahead of the rest of the country. It noted in particular the numerous large scale wind and solar projects, which were driving investment in a state that had lost its major car manufacturers.