Solar power in Australia (2)
Sun on the Bush|
This page gives a few of what I think are interesting points about solar
power especially as it is developing in Australia.
Solar Power gives a historical snapshot of
solar in Australia around 2008 to 2010.
Renewable developments gives a list of the more
impressive renewable energy developments in Australia.
Written 2012/04/10, modified 2017/05/05
Contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I, David Clarke, the writer of these pages, am independent of any company,
lobby group, or government.
About these pages
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Wikipedia has a page on
Among developed nations Australia is exceptionally
for solar power: it has a location relatively near the
equator and mostly clear skies.
Australian scientists have been in the forefront of solar power research,
some of the most efficient solar photovoltaic (PV) cells were developed in
In spite of these advantages, Australia is one of the slower developed
nations in taking up solar energy;
this has been due to plentiful and cheap coal and government
policies being influenced by a very strong fossil fuel lobby.
On the cusp?
Large-scale solar PV
In mid 2017 it seems that new solar energy installations are changing from
predominantly small-scale domestic roof-top to large-scale energy parks.
Clean Energy Council published a page on 2017/05/02 in which it listed
1.92GW of large-scale solar farms expected to at least start construction
by the end of the year.
At the time there was only a fraction of one GW operating in the whole of
Small-scale solar PV
Meanwhile, the number of small-scale PV systems being installed has decreased,
but the capacity of each has tended to increase, so the installation amount
in megawatts has remained pretty constant.
Solar PV panels are dark coloured
It has been pointed out that the current (around 2000-2012) fashion for
slate-grey roofs, which in some cases predominate in large developments,
absorb more solar radiation than would light coloured roofs; which would
bounce much of the radiation back into space.
Once absorbed, the heat is re-radiated or passed to the air by conduction.
A city with predominantly light coloured roofs will therefore be cooler
than a city with predominantly dark coloured roofs and a world with
predominantly dark-roofed cities will be warmer than a world with
predominantly light-roofed cities.
Solar panels are likewise dark coloured and covering large areas with them
will have a warming effect (only about 15% of the light falling on a PV
panel is converted into electrcity).
This is not to say that we should not deploy solar panels, but does suggest
yet again that the best way to combat global warming is to reduce our power
However, around 2010 things did improve.
With Labor governments in most (or was it all) states at that time, schemes
were put in place to encourage people to install solar PV on their homes
The Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator (ORER; since replaced by the
Regulator) released a spread-sheet
recording the amount of solar take-up for the whole of Australia by postcode.
Up to and including September 2011 there were 520 000
small PV installations in Australia.
At the time there were around eight and a half million homes, indicating
that about 6% of Australian homes had solar power.
Unfortunately, with Labor governments being replaced by
Liberal across the country,
we can expect little encouragement for renewable energy in the next few
(I should not forget to point out that Labor's policies on renewables look
good only when compared to those of the LNP; Labor too gives far to much
to the fossil fuel lobby.)
Whichever government is in power in the future, solar PV is becoming
price-competative with fossil fuels and this will see a steadily increasing
take-up of solar power; for example,
with solar shade will be coming soon.
This table is based on 'small scale solar installations by postcode' as
published by the Renewable Energy Regulator in early March 2015 and 'ranked
list of states and territories of Australia' in Wikipedia (2015/04/30).
The wind power numbers were my own calculations.
|1.||State or territory name
|2.||Total megawatts of installed small-scale solar PV in that state
|3.||Population of that state in thousands
|4.||Installed Watts of solar PV per person
|5.||Installed Watts of utility-scale
wind power per person, for comparison
I have lumped the ACT in with NSW because it is not easy to separate the
two based on postcodes.
The table below shows the size of the solar installations discussed on this
The map on the right shows insolation rates on the world's land areas;
the units, I believe, are kilowatt-hours per square metre per year.
The desert areas get the most sunlight because they have less cloud cover
than the better watered areas.
|Acknowledgement WorlyParsons - EcoNomics
The map indicates that Australia has very high levels of solar power
available for development, the SW part of the US is the only other part of
a developed nation that comes close.
Insolation in Australia is shown in greater detail below.
The map on the right, using the same colour-coding as that above, shows
insolation within Australia.
Any of the areas coloured red would be very well suited for solar power.
|Acknowledgement WorlyParsons - EcoNomics
By far the greatest problem in the economic use of solar power is due to the
low intensity at which it reaches the surface of the Earth.
Whatever is used to collect it must cover a large area and therefore must
be low in cost per unit of area covered.
In some applications the radiation is collected direct (eg. the common photo
voltaic panels) and in others the radiation is concentrated in some way.
Several methods of collecting solar power are (the links are to examples
illustrated on this page):
Photo voltaic systems generate electricity directly.
Thermal energy collectors heat something - usually a fluid, but possibly
something like a Stirling engine - as an intermediate step toward the
production of useful energy.
- Photo voltaic
- Flat pannel
- Crystaline silicon
- Amorphous silicon
- Gallium arsenide
- Dish concentrators (shine concentrated sunlight
onto relatively small PV panels that need to be actively cooled)
- No concentration
- Linear concentrators
- Trough concentrators
- Fresnel concentrators
- Array concentrators
- Power tower (a single collector in a large array of reflectors)
- Modular power towers (an array of power tower modules)
- Dish concentrators
- Repeated modules (many dishes of moderate size)
Several of the above methods have been brought to the stage of commercial
viability, the others have gone only to the pilot stage.
This section added 2017/04/20
By Sophie Vorrath, April 20, 2017; in
"Australian developed solar technology that aims to tackle the dominance of diesel
generators in the temporary power market will be tested at the 1MW scale in New
South Wales, off the back of a new grant from the Australian Renewable Energy
The article said that the solar unit, with optional battery storage and backup
diesel or gas generation, could be set up or removed in a matter of days.
The modular, mobile solar power solution was developed by the Australian arm of
UK-based builder Laing O'Rourke, initially as a way to cut diesel fuel costs at the
company's own remote construction sites."
This could prove to be very important in the future of solar power in Australia and
This section added 2017/04/11
On 2017/04/11 ABC OnLine carried an
article that stated that work was expected to start "shortly" on a 220MW
solar power station occupying 800ha of land owned by the Bungala Aboriginal
Corporation about 10km north-east of Port Augusta.
It will use tracking solar pannels.
I believe that, at the time of writing, Nyngan Solar Farm, at 102MW, was the
biggest in Australia.
This will more than double that (if it is built).
RenewEconomy called this the first two stages of a 300MW solar farm.
Also known as Mildura Solar Farm
ReNewEconomy carried an
on 2013/08/17 noting that this "power plant was officiall opened today",
and gave the installed capacity as 1.5MW.
|Carwarp Solar Farm
|Google Earth image; downloaded 2013/02/28
Solar Systems' pdf page on the project stated that it was
expected to cost about $1 million, have an installed capacity of 2 MW,
and generate 4 to 4.5 GWh per annum.
The Google Earth image on the right shows that a part was in place at the
time the photograph was taken.
A friend has since told me that it is (October 2013) completed.
The installation is about 1.7 km SW of Carwarp, which is about 28 km south
There seems to be remarkably little on the Internet about the project,
but Solar Choice has a page
Juwi Renewable Energy PL has constructed a 10.6MW solar farm at Sandfire
Resources' DeGrussa Copper Mine in WA.
Completion was announced on 2016/06/08.
This is of particular interest because the mining industry in Australia has
been remarkably slow to adopt renewable energy.
It has tended to stay with diesel power generation in spite of this being
much more expensive than solar PV.
Wikipedia gives LCOEs (Levelised Cost Of Energy) from investment bank
Lazard as between:
US$50-70/MWh for utility scale solar PV and
US$212-281/MWh for diesel recipricating engine.
Why has the mining industry been so slow to make use of solar PV?
Could it be an antipathy to the renewables industry because it is seen as a
competitor, or is it because mines generally have a fairly short life while
a solar PV system needs a few years of operation to financially justify its
Perhaps a combination of the two?
Australia's first utility-scale solar farm was officially opened on
The solar farm is 10MW, large in solar power terms, but small compared to
a typical wind farm.
It consists of 150 000 solar photovoltaic panels and is about 50km
south-east of Geraldton in Western Australia.
Latitude 28.904°, longitude 115.117°
|Google Earth image
|Obtained from Internet on 2014/06/17|
Thanks to Matt Kitching for telling me it was available
Giles Parkinson and Renew Economy
ran an article on this solar power installation and the
company that built it on
|Google Earth image
|NSW, Latitude -33.3115°, Longitude 146.4097°
Giles wrote "An Australian solar thermal technology developer says it can
provide concentrated solar thermal energy to outback and remote locations
for just 8c/kWh, and hopes to sign for its first two commercial projects
within the next few months." and
"The distinguishing feature of Graphite Energy's technology
is that it uses graphite receivers that are mounted on towers to collect
heat reflected from a field of heliostats (mirrors), and its ability to
store energy via heat exchanges gives it an 'in-built' storage option that
delivers 'dispatchable' energy."
I'd like to thank Matt Kitching for allerting me to this.
Much of my spare time is taken up in trying to counter the disinformation
spread by the anti-wind power lobby and I cannot spend as much time and
effort on solar energy as I'd like to.
Solar Power Today has an
article on the Lake Cargelligo project, which it says is a 3MW installation.
"The company [Graphite Energy] is already in talks with two potential
customers for its technology in remote areas of Western Australia.
These are probably mining related since it would require a minimum of 15 MW."
This item added 2016/06/27
Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) has a
Net Page on the project.
As of 2016/06/27 the 56MW project has a power purchase agreement with
Origin Energy in place and it had begun feeding electricity into the
Australian national electricity grid.
|An artist's impression on the Nyngan solar power station|
Image credit: AGL
RenewEconmy carried an article
written by Sophie Vorrath on 2013/12/02 about what was claimed will be the
largest solar power station in the Southern Hemesphere, a Aus$300m,
102MW PV installation at Nyngan in inland NSW.
It was reported that the last of 1,366,380 panels was installed on 2015/04/10.
On 2015/06/09 it was reported on RenewEconomy that full generation had been
achieved and full operation was expected in "a matter of weeks".
The article said that it was to be owned by AGL, built by First Solar, and
that construction was to start in January 2014.
Australian manufacturing company IXL Group is to supply major structural
components for the project.
Completion is expected to be in June 2015.
It is expected that its 1 350 000 solar modules will generate
around 230 000MWh of electricity per annum.
A floating solar power plant
is expected to be operational in South Australia by early April 2015
(Announcement of 2015/03/05).
|Floating PV panels proposed for Jamestown, South Australia
|Image credit ABC
At 400kW it is large for a solar PV installation in Australia, but not
unusually so; there are a number on this page that are bigger.
I have read that the capital cost is expected to be $6.6m.
However, this project has some unique features.
The solar array has dual use; it will reduce evaporation on the ponds as
well as generating electricity.
At the same time, the water will increase the efficiency of the panels by
keeping them cool.
The project was originally announced by Geits ANZ around May 2014.
They said they were intending to use the power plant
to supply 'behind the meter' power to one or more businesses that are at
some distance from the installation; in effect setting up a micro
grid quite separate from the eastern Australian electricity grid.
It will be about 600m from a saw mill and two and a half kilometres from
the centre of Jamestown.
It will supply cheap electricity that will replace expensive electricity
that would otherwise come from the power grid.
It seems that the company in charge of the project in June 2016 was
Infratech Industries, who have a not very informative
Net page on the project.
The 20MW Royalla solar farm was opened on 2014/09/03.
It is about 17km south of Canberra.
|Royalla Solar Farm
|Image credit, ABC. Artist's impression
It is the largest so far in Australia (which is pathetic by world standards).
The ACT is the most progressive of the states and teritories of Australia in
that it has a policy for 90% renewable energy by 2020.
This solar farm is the first of several planned.
I have mentioned the first stage of the Sundrop Farms development on
The proponents have a
Net page and a
|Sundrop Farms – the solar power installation
Photo taken with my drone
The highly innovative project uses seawater and sunlight to grow tomatoes in
greenhouses on arid saline land near Port Augusta.
The only other economic use the land has is fairly low-value grazing land.
The area is attractive for this sort of development because of the:
- abundant sunlight;
- abundant (highly saline) water;
- cheap land;
- nearby potential workforce;
- highway connection to markets and suppliers.
The proponents expect that the development will be fully operational some time
in the second half of 2016.
The solar power tower in the photo on the right started operating around
|The whole Sundrop Farm development
|Photo taken with my drone
This section added 2015/08/21
Renew Economy ran an
on this, written by Sophie Vorrath, on 2015/08/20.
At 4.1MW it may be the biggest solar PV installation in the Northern
Territory and is the biggest in Australia to use sun-tracking technology.
The first stage was 1MW, the second stage (commissioned in August 2015)
added another 3.1MW.
Sited near Alice Springs, it gives that city "one of the highest solar
penetration levels in the country".
Epuron, the owner of Uterne, has a
Net page on the
This section added 2012/04/10
In an article in
Climate Spectator Tristan Edis pointed
out that the present Labor Government has a far better record in
developing sustainable energy than the previous Howard Coalition Government.
He produced the graphs on the right.
I have discussed the political aspects of this on my
page about the Liberal's war on renewable
|Annual installations of solar photovoltaics
|Image credit: Climate Spectator
The top graph shows that installation of solar photovoltaics in Australia
reached around 770MW in 2011.
Of course the price of solar PV has been declining greatly over this time
span and this is a very important factor, however, there has been little
change in the price of solar water heaters and the third graph shows that
the installation of these has also increased markedly under Labor.
This graph indicates that installation of wind power in any one year has not
been greater than about 510MW, so the amount of solar (PV) installed in
2011 was greater than the amount of wind power installed in any year.
This is the first time that this has happened.
|Annual installation of wind power capacity
|Image credit: Climate Spectator
It is worth noting that while the
of solar installed in 2011 was greater than the installed capacity of wind
in the same year, the amount of electricity generated from the wind
turbines will be greater than that generated from the solar because the
capacity factor of wind is
about twice that of solar PV.
While assigning exactly when a wind farm should be considered finished is a
difficult and somewhat arbitrary matter (they come on line gradually over a
period of some months), these figures agree at least approximately with mine
that were calculated independently.
The last graph shows installations of heat pump and solar water heaters.
(While heat pump water heaters do not necessarily use sustainable energy
they were probably included in Tristan Edis's article because they are
much more energy-efficient than electric water heaters.)
|Number of solar and heat-pump water heaters sold in Australia per year
|Image credit: Climate Spectator
carried an article on declining prices of solar PV, 2012/05/17, (relating
to a paper published on Bloomberg New Energy Finance).
The report suggested that "fully installed system cost of $3.01/Watt for
2012 and $2.00/Watt for 2015" and that the cost of power generated by solar
PV was now below residential grid-price parity in a number of countries
I found the graph below in Quora, 2012/06/12
Original source: Deutsche Bank|
So, solar prices might reach parity with fossil fuels around 2015-2017
I got the graph from
There was a suggestion that it was already out of date and that solar
prices were actually lower than indicated.
Prices declined greatly in 2011 due to an oversupply of panels.
Once the oversupply situation resolves, prices might rise again?
Will solar outstrip wind?
Solar power to 2012 has been more expensive than utility-scale
It seems that the price of solar power is continuing to decline, but
present indications seem to be that wind power is not getting any cheaper.
Solar could overtake wind power on costs in the next few years.
Margaret Hender is the prime mover of this great
As Margaret says, it is
"people-powered and donation based.
It will enable people all over Australia to get on with the job of building
more renewable energy capacity instead of just waiting on government action."
Margaret is a wonderful person, devoted to getting action on climate change
So devoted, that even though she's no spring chicken (I don't think she'll
mind me saying that; I'm even older) she did the 328km Walk for Solar
Thermal Power from Port Augusta to Adelaide in September 2012.
The 2013 Australian Energy Market Operator's (AEMO) report titled
South Australian Electricity Report stated that rooftop solar accounted for
3.7% of SA's electricity generation in the 2012/13 financial year.
(Wind generated 27% of SA's power in 2012/13.)
The report stated that during the period from 2008/09 to 2012/13 solar PV
output rose from negligible levels to 497 GWh per year.
It was expected that rapid growth would continue.