Rooftop solar is about to surpass coal as Australia’s primary source of electricity generation, as the rate of new installations accelerates the demise of fossil fuel-fired power.
More than 20,000 megawatts of small-scale solar capacity have been installed on residential and commercial roofs nationwide, according to a new report from the industry association SunWiz.
When energy giant AGL is expected to shut down the final units at its 2,000 MW Liddell coal plant in New South Wales in April, the lobby predicts rooftop solar will surpass the generating capacity of coal-fired power.
Over 3.4 million Australian customers, or about 300,000 installations annually, according to SunWiz, have rooftop solar systems.
According to the article, photovoltaic cells, which turn sunlight into electricity, are being adopted at a faster rate in Australia than anywhere else in the world.
Solar Uptake ‘leads the World’
When small- and large-scale projects are combined, according to managing director of SunWiz Warwick Johnston, solar is already Australia’s largest electricity source by capacity.
However, Mr. Johnston claimed that the fact that rooftop solar alone would soon hold that mantle was a testament to Australia’s love of the technology and the country’s move away from fossil fuels.
“Solar energy is already Australia’s largest fuel source for electrical power in Australia,” he said.
“Rooftop solar alone will produce more energy than the remaining coal-fired power plants in operation across the nation when the Liddell coal-fired power station shuts down in April 2023, making rooftop solar the country’s biggest power generator.
“Over 20 gigawatts of solar power can now be found on Australian rooftops.
“This enormous amount has been made possible by the support of millions of Australian homes, businesses, and the country’s thriving solar industry.
“It makes sense that Australia leads the world in solar adoption per capita because our solar power systems are more affordable than those found in any other nation.”
While coal still generates the most power in absolute terms, despite significant declines in recent years, solar power remains Australia’s largest source of electricity generation by capacity.
Nearly 70% of the power produced in the national electricity market (NEM) in the 12 months leading up to June 30 was produced by black and brown coal, according to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).
The majority of the population of the nation is served by the national electricity market, which includes South Australia, Tasmania, and all of Australia’s eastern states.
On the other hand, according to OpenNEM, an open source information provider, utility-scale solar generated 4.9 percent of the electricity produced during the period, followed by rooftop solar at 8.4 percent.
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Coal Declines as Solar Rises
The AER claimed that the rise of rooftop solar was particularly hard on coal-fired power plants and hastened the closure of many plants in its most recent market snapshot.
In the middle of the day, when output is typically high, the regulator noted that coal-fired power plants could not compete with solar power.
The AER claimed that as a result, coal plants were being forced to reduce their output, sometimes significantly, in order to handle the daily influx of inexpensive solar power.
However, it was noted that coal plants were almost always not built to operate flexibly and that this was costing them extra in terms of increased wear and tear in addition to decreased reliability.
This was a major factor in the shutdown of so many coal plants during the previous year’s energy crisis, it was noted.
“The rapid influx of grid and rooftop solar over the past three years has changed the shape of wholesale electricity prices and demand for base-load (coal) generation during the day,” the AER mentioned in its report on the state of the energy market.
“The rapid influx of grid and rooftop solar over the past three years has changed the shape of wholesale electricity prices and demand for base-load (coal) generation during the day,” the AER noted in its state of the energy market report.
“Many of these coal-fired power plants are slated to close sooner than originally planned as fossil fuel-dependent energy companies shift their focus toward renewable energy.”
Along with Liddell, which will soon retire, other coal plants scheduled for closure in the upcoming years include Yallourn in Victoria in 2028 and Australia’s largest power station, the massive 2,880MW Eraring south of Newcastle.