Clean Energy Council 2021 Report: A positive outlook for solar power in Australia

Published: 14 July 2021

Renewable energy has been growing fast in Australia. Small-scale rooftop solar added the most capacity in 2020, but the contributions of wind and large-scale solar power were also significant. Find out more about the industry outlook.

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) publishes annual reports about the renewable energy industry in Australia, and the 2021 report shows a promising outlook for rooftop solar power. More than 3,000 megawatts of small-scale solar capacity were added in 2020, with 378,451 installations completed across all states and territories. The leading states in terms of installed capacity were New South Wales (927 MW), Queensland (787 MW), and Victoria (559 MW).

Renewable energy in general has been growing fast in Australia, and now provides 27.7% of the country’s electricity. In the five years from 2016 to 2021, Australia has increased its share of renewable energy from 17% to nearly 28%. Small-scale rooftop solar added the most capacity in 2020, but the contributions of wind and large-scale solar power were also significant:

  • 1,097 MW of wind generation capacity
  • 117  MW of medium-scale solar systems, ranging from 100 kW to 5 MW
  • 893 MW of utility-scale solar farms (>5 MW)

Australia completed 32 large-scale solar and wind projects in 2020. There were 76 under construction by the end of the year, which will add 8,000 MW of clean generation to the grid, while employing 8,000 Australians. 49 of these 76 large projects are solar farms.

Solar battery systems are also being deployed at a fast rate in Australia. 23,796 home batteries were installed in 2020, adding a combined storage capacity of over 238,000 kWh. Most of these systems were installed in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria – states with government incentive programs for solar batteries. There were also 16 utility-scale batteries under construction by the end of 2020, which will add 595 MW of instant power capacity.

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Rooftop solar power in Australia: Key facts

Australia installed 378,451 small rooftop solar systems in 2020, with a combined capacity of over 3,000 MW. The renewable energy industry has created over 25,000 jobs nationwide, and 37% of them are in the rooftop solar sector. This is reflected by the increase in CEC Accredited Installers and Designers – from 6,566 in 2019, to 7,713 in 2020.

Solar systems in Australia are not only increasing in number, but also in size. The average system size was only 1.97 kW in 2010, increasing to 8.04 kW in 2020. In other words, solar installations are four times larger than one decade ago

Renewable energy systems in Australia produced 62,917 million kWh in 2020, which is equivalent to the electricity consumption of 13.7 million homes.

  • Small-scale solar systems produced 14,807 million kWh, equivalent to 23.5% of total renewable generation – the energy consumption of 3.2 million homes.
  • When the contribution of medium and large-scale systems is considered, solar power represents 35.8% of total generation – the consumption of 4.9 million homes.
  • Among other renewable sources, only wind power surpasses solar PV by a minimal margin, representing 35.9% of generation in 2020.

The corporate solar power sector is smaller than the residential sector. However, 26 Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) were signed in 2020, increasing the contracted solar generation capacity above 1,000 MW for the first time.

State and territory governments taking the lead in renewable energy policy

The Australian renewable energy industry has seen little action from the federal government, but state and territory governments are stepping up to promote clean power. The following table summarizes some of their recent achievements and commitments:

State/TerritoryRenewable Energy Outlook
ACTPledged to develop a 250-MW battery network
Net-zero emissions target for 2045
Planning to eliminate natural gas by 2045
NSWEnergy Infrastructure Roadmap with 12 GW of planned transmission capacity to support renewable energy
The roadmap also aims for 60% renewable energy by 2030
NTSet a 50% renewable energy target for 2030
Developing a 35MW utility battery to support the Darwin-Katherine grid
Provides $6,000 grants through the Home and Business Battery Scheme
QLDWill invest $145 in three renewable energy zones
Set a 50% renewable energy target for 2030
Created a $500 million Renewable Energy Fund to support projects
SAClimate Action Plan aims to increase renewable generation capacity to 500% of state demand
Planning three renewable hydrogen hubs with electrolysers up to 2.6 GW
Expanded the Hornsdale Power Reserve from 100 MW / 129,000 kWh to 150 MW / 194,000 kWh in 2020
Planning a $3 billion solar and wind power project, complemented by a 900MW / 1800MWh battery system
TAS1st Australian state to reach 100% renewable energy, in 2020
Created the Renewable Hydrogen Action Plan
Developing the Battery of the Nation project, which is based on pumped storage hydroelectricity
VICProcuring 600 MW of wind and solar power in the second renewable energy auction
Planning a 300 MW utility-scale battery near Geelong
Investing $540 in six renewable energy zones
Expanded the Solar Homes incentive program for landlords and renters
Created the Solar for Business incentive program in 2021
WAPlanning a 100 MW / 200 MWh utility-scale battery
Aiming for 70% renewable energy by 2040
Investing $22 million in hydrogen technology by 2030

The outlook is very promising throughout Australia, not only for solar power but for renewable energy in general. State governments are also investing in emerging technologies that complement solar power, such as battery systems and clean hydrogen production.

Grid connection procedures and transmission capacity are still an issue that limits renewables, according to the Clean Energy Council. However, major investments in grid infrastructure have already been announced by New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

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