NSW, the sleeping giant of rooftop solar, is about to awake

NSW, the sleeping giant of rooftop solar, is about to awake

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NSW is expected to overtake Queensland as biggest market for rooftop solar and will have 50 per cent more capacity than any other state by the mid-2030s.

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New South Wales has long played second fiddle to Queensland – the “Sunshine state”, when it comes to rooftop solar. Despite its bigger population, NSW is beaten into second place on rooftop solar installations by Queensland, which has already reached the 2GW mark.

But the Australian Energy Market Operator suggests that is about to change.

Over the next few years, it expects NSW to overtake Queensland with the most installed capacity (by 2020/21) and by 2035 it expects NSW to have more than 7GW of rooftop solar in the state – 50 per cent more than its nearest rival.

This graph above shows the estimate, including in the AEMC’s Reliability Panel’s annual report, which highlights the growing shift to decentralised energy, which includes rooftop solar and storage.

Indeed, this graph shows only one of AEMO’s  installation scenarios – it’s high uptake shows another 3GW of rooftop solar, and many suggest that half of all Australia’s electricity needs may come from decentralised energy within a decade or two.

Recent data suggests that NSW recently pipped Queensland as the biggest market for rooftop solar in the month of February (with just over 28MW installed in the month), but AEMO’s forecasts suggests NSW will continue to set the pace over the next decade or two.

The rooftop solar is already having an impact, delaying and reducing the size of grid peaks, and so reducing the cost of peak demand events. Ausgrid is also looking at providing more subsidies to encourage more rooftop solar in inner-city suburbs to reduce the need for network upgrades.

The AEMO forecasts suggest a total of 18.6GW of rooftop solar  PV capacity by 2035/36, which will be accompanies by strong growth of integrated solar PV and battery storage systems.

Indeed, this graph shows only one of AEMO’s  installation scenarios – it’s high uptake shows another 3GW of rooftop solar, and many suggest that half of all Australia’s electricity needs may come from decentralised energy within a decade or two.

This will have an impact on the shape of the demand curve in Australia. Not only will it reduce maximum demand, and push it into the evenings, it will also push minimum demand into the middle of the day, rather than overnight.

This is already happening in South Australia (it has been since 2012), but will extend to NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Minimum demand may turn “negative” – where rooftop solar output exceeds customer demand – as early as 2025 on some days in South Australia.

AEMO suggests that in South Australia the excess rooftop solar output can be stored (in batteries) or exported to the rest of the market.

“This signals the important need for market and regulatory frameworks that support storage solutions and maximise the efficiency or shared electricity services for consumers.”

Indeed, the new South Australian government is toying with that idea, proposing its own $100 million plan to subsidise the installation of batteries in 40,000 homes, and considering what to do with the Tesla plan for solar and storage in 50,000 low income homes that would create the “world’s biggest virtual power plant”.

And here’s another interesting graph from a separate AEMO report, one that looks at the last quarter of the electricity markets.

It shows the average rooftop solar PV output in the last quarter, and it is nearing 1GW, having risen from 905MW in the same quarter last year to 969MW in the fourth quarter of 2017.

AEMO says the largest increases were in Victoria (+15 per cent) and South Australia (+8 per cent). These increases correspond with an increase in rooftop PV capacity and higher than average sunshine across all capital cities except Adelaide.


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  1. Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago

    7GW in NSW. That’s around 13.5% supply by 2030, or around half of average daytime demand. Let’s try and make it happen sooner.

    • Crankydaks 3 years ago

      Sounds amazing but we mustn’t confuse rated install with actual generation. Now 7GW in NSW sounds great but the actual output for the whole of the country for an average day is around 3.5GW. The problem that arises from solar (unless it incorporates battery storage) is that the grid must find, and very quickly find, 3.5GW of supply when the sun goes down. This is not always an easy thing to achieve with old fossil baseload stations therefore requiring expensive gas turbines which are predominantly open cycle, to cover the shortfall and all at the highest peak period of the day (dinner time). As we keep introducing more solar ( without battery storage) the problem increases. I’m not knocking solar but it currently has its challenges.

      • Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago

        This graph tells all – http://opennem.org.au/#/regions/nsw

        • Crankydaks 3 years ago

          I’m not arguing the graph, I’m saying rooftop solar without storage is causing problems with the energy grid for the reasons I explained. I understand 7GW is the future forecast for NSW, but I believe all new solar should be required to have battery storage or it will cripple the system.

          • Steven Gannon 3 years ago

            Can you elaborate on how it “will cripple the system” or should I take a leap of faith and blindly assume you are a real expert and not a fake one?

      • John Saint-Smith 3 years ago

        ‘Not always an easy thing to achieve with old fossil baseload stations’ Except that they ( the gas turbines) must already be doing exactly that every day that the sun goes down…
        Over time, when the coal is even older, there will be more large scale renewables including solar thermal with salt storage, and some of which are wind (which works without sunlight), as well as some biofuels, and last but not least, in the fullness of time, Snowy Hydro 2!
        Please be calm and carry on.

  2. Ian 3 years ago

    Love these graphs that confidently predict a fast changing industry 10 , 20, 30 years into the future . The predictions must be based on assumptions, and the assumptions are clouded by opinions, attitudes, cultural bias, and general wants and desires of those making the assumptions. This type of long range forecasting tells us more about the group doing the forecasting than the actual likelihood of such future events.

    That said, the graph indicates a linear progression over time : the same amount installed every year for 20 years. It also shows proportionality between population size and sunlight hours. In other words, AEMO, concedes that solar will continue to be installed but , at a rate not by much more than it is now, ie we are seeing the top of the technology improvement for solar. Secondly, that there is no difference between states other than population size and geography and thus state government policies will make no difference at all. Are these reasonable assumptions?

    For one, prices for solar panels are still dropping , prices for grid electricity are still rising rapidly, 2., small businesses are starting to install solar which is a fairly new trend. 3., storage is becoming more achievable allowing larger rooftop installations,

    • Nick Kemp 3 years ago

      I hope so – bring on the s curve

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