Announcements relating to large scale solar power stations may grab the headlines, but when it comes to bang for buck, small and medium scale installations cost around the same or less per watt and can offer other benefits says Jeremy Rich, CEO of Australian solar solutions provider Energy Matters.
“We congratulate the Government on their vision and support of large scale photovoltaics in Australia. We believe major projects will become economical without subsidy by around 2018, assuming the introduction of a carbon price backed by suitable mechanisms and the ongoing influence of a strong Renewable Energy Target.”
“Until that time, subsidies and funding of projects such as Moree Solar Farm encourage confidence and investment in solar, which also helps drive prices down and creates new green jobs that are so critical to Australia’s clean energy future. Likewise, governments need to further their targeted support for small and medium scale solar to ensure Australia can gain the most benefit in the years ahead and bring forward the point in time solar goes beyond grid parity and becomes cheaper than fossil fuel based electricity generation.”
Mr. Rich says while grid parity for large scale solar is on the horizon; it’s not far away for small and medium scale solar either.
“It’s worth noting Moree Solar Farm is a solar panel based project, working out to cost around $6 a watt. Residential rooftop solar is around the same price now, probably a little lower in some instances and Energy Matters is already delivering medium scale PV installations on commercial buildings for as little as $4 a watt.”
Mr. Rich says the sea of rooftops across Australia is an under-utilised resource that needs to be thoroughly tapped.
“Small to medium projects provide as great, if not greater value for money as large scale. These smaller individual installations are just as scalable as large projects when viewed from a big-picture approach, particularly given we estimate over 28GW of capacity could be generated on Australian roof tops. We base that on the assumption just 20% of roof space in this country being suitable – the real figure may be higher.”
In regard to other benefits of small and medium scale solar, one of the major enemies of delivering electricity is the line loss that occurs when electricity is transmitted across distances; eating into as much as 10% of electricity production. Mr. Rich says that by generating electricity closer to the point of consumption, line loss can be virtually eliminated.
“Electricity generation doesn’t get much closer to the source of consumption than rooftop solar panels. A collection of small scale systems would need up to 10% fewer panels to deliver the same amount of electricity as a major solar farm situated some distance away from the point of electricity consumption.”
“Another major challenge that threatens the stability of Australia’s electricity infrastructure in the near future is the increasing thirst we have for energy, particularly during peak times – rooftop solar power can help alleviate the problem,” says Mr. Rich.
“A wonderful and empowering aspect of small and medium scale solar is average Australian households and businesses can play a hands-on role in creating electricity, rather than power generation being left to a handful of companies. It’s power to the people, for the people and by the people. We also find households that install solar panels have a tendency to become more energy conscious and given ongoing electricity price rises, rooftop solar can be a better investment than shares or having money in the bank.”
Additionally, Mr. Rich says better utilisation of rooftops can create as many, if not more jobs than large scale solar and the technology bypasses some thorny environmental issues such as the amount of land required for major solar farms. Rooftop solar also provides a robust system of electricity production he says, referring to it as the Internet of distributed energy generation.
“Australian Federal and state governments really need to get behind home and commercial solar power. We have concerns that misinformation has negatively affected government support for the sector; even though there have been so many authoritative studies published on an ongoing basis that thoroughly debunk small and medium scale solar myths.”
Mr. Rich doesn’t see large scale and small/medium scale to be competitors or support to be an “us versus them” situation, but as complementary technologies; each with their unique strengths, each critical in reining in greenhouse gas emissions and each requiring suitable levels of support until grid parity occurs.
“Energy Matters envisions a future where small, medium and large scale solar are each key portfolios in Australia’s energy mix – and where fossil fuels become a distant, unpleasant memory.”