Australia is clearly on the road to one million homes having solar photovoltaic panels installed, the chief adviser to the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) said on Wednesday. To help reach that goal is the opening of the 10-megawatt Greenough River Solar Farm in Western Australia.
With 858,000 homes now with an installed capacity of almost 2 gigawatts, according to the latest data from the Australian Clean Energy Regulator, by the end of June 2013, the one million mark will be breached, estimated Professor Ray Wills, the chief adviser to the SEA.
Reaching the 1 million homes will help Australia fulfill its commitment to source 20 per cent of its electricity by 2020 from renewable, although large coal and gas-based utilities want the target to be lowered. At present, only 10 per cent of the country's electricity supply is from renewable energy, of which two-third is from hydropower.
The current solar power generating capacity is equal to half of the Snowy Hydro scheme as homeowners respond to skyrocketing power bills and declining prices of PV panels.
Further boosting the growing acceptance of Aussie households of solar energy is the Greenough project which opened on Wednesday near Geraldton in the Mid West region of WA. The venture has 150,000 panels which covers 50 hectares of farmland and completed in just 12 months. It could power 3,000 households.
The energy produced by the farm is purchased by the Water Corporation to help offset the power needs of its Southern Seawater Desalination Plant. WA supported the venture by providing $20 million of the $50 million total cost, including $10 million investment from the Royalties for Regions programme.
WA Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls said the initial performance of the Greenough River Solar Farm went beyond expectations. He added the venture could expand to 40 MW in the future.
What helps Australia shift more reliance on solar power is the intense international competition from solar panel supplies, particularly from China, that Aussie households could enjoy a payback period of as short as four years for the $1,500 to $2,000 they spend on a 1,500-KW unit.
"By 2013-14, solar panels will be so cheap that you'll coat every surface that has exposure to sunlight," Mr Wills forecast.