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Solar can deliver in FiTs and starts

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In the Icy German Winter, during the 12 days of Christmas, the Germans installed more than 3 gigawatts of solar PV – a sum that is nearly ten times our Federal Goverment’s entire target for big solar.

To much fanfare the Labor Government has been announcing, and re-announcing, its Solar Flagships program for the past two and half years. And, you guessed it, there has been no action and nothing has been paid for or built. (Update, see our story on CS Energy quitting Solar Dawn consortium).

Back in May 2009 Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced the Solar Flagship program, the then press release said of Solar Flagships, “offers funding on an unprecedented scale for the development of solar power in Australia.”

This claim could only be made on the basis that the government didn’t have any history of seriously backing solar.  In fact, the Howard government were shocking in closing down Co-operative Research Centres related to renewable energy and this Labor government continues the tradition, but not through the so obvious attacks on Solar as the previous government,but through hollow announcements.

Since May 2009, when Australia first announced its plans for a solar flagships project, and finally chose two projects, only to see them fail to get funding, Germany,where they do things before they announce them, have installed the equivalent of one hundred and fifteen Solar Flagships projects.  That’s not 115 times the announcement but actually building 115 times the real capacity of what is in Labor’s announcement.

The governments so called Solar Flagships project at Moree is just 150MW, for comparison Germany installed 20 times this in December alone, at the height of the extreme German winter where the thermostat is often well below zero, and during the Christmas holidays.

In other words in Germany, they’ve fired up the industrial machine, workers on the job, manufactured more than half of the panels themselves, applied the most successful funding method – which is a Feed-in-Tariff – and implemented it properly. They are now ready to generate  4% of their electricity from solar next year.

The time for talk, or announcements is over, It’s now time for this Labor government to get serious, install an appropriate Feed-in-Tariff scheme for getting solar constructed at all scales – commercial, large scale, baseload and residential, along with wind.  Have the policy set out to achieve some serious targets, ultimately 15-20% from rooftop solar, 30-35% from large scale baseload solar and 50% from wind.  These are the kind of targets that the world’s OECD leaders – Germany, Spain and Denmark are working towards – and we should obviously be too.

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  • George Michaelson

    Germany has a land mass slightly smaller than Montana. Australia is the size of the continental USA. Germany has a population of 81,000,000 and Australia is I believe two, and a dog on a tuckerbox. (ok, 22,000,000)

    So it would be trivial to point to say, Dortmund, or the Rhine/Rhur belt, and suggest that investment in alternate energy has significantly more local demand, and less transmission loss than almost anywhere you choose outside of the Latrobe Valley or Hunter.

    Oh, and while they are shedding their own Nuclear, France sells its nuclear generation baseload at competitive rate, and Russia sells gas too.

    If I was a capitalist, I’d invest in German solar. If I was an Australian capitalist, I am less sure I’d trust any government of the last 10 years to return on my investment, and that worries me. Its not Soverign risk, its lack of bloody commitment.

    -G

  • Michael

    Why do we need feed-in tariffs for Solar PV ?
    Solar PV is fast approaching grid parity anyway and the Germans are phasing out feed-in tariffs.

    The Chinese are continuing to push PV prices down. Solar PV will soon be able to stand on its own feet, without feed-in tariffs.

    http://news.businessweek.com/article.asp?documentKey=1376-LY3AJ31A74E901-5QK9BBB2UQTL0LUHIJ24CC6DPK

    • http://beyondzeroemissions.org Matthew Wright

      Michael,

      In order to drive volume installations of Rooftop Solar PV, fast tracking Australia’s shift from a 19th century fossil fuel based economy to a 21st century clean tech economy, we need Feed-in-Tariffs to support significant deployment until 2015. At that point usbusidised a significant market will develop providing electricity to consumers cheaper than the meter.

      The other thing we need is an orderly growth to the industry. Stop start environment leading to bankruptcies, layoffs and quick rehires does not give us quality and safe installs. We should try and get the industry upto 2-4GW in an orderly manner and this can be achieved starting with a 35cent a kilowatt hour national Feed-in-Tariff in 2012 dropping to 30cents in 2015 and then finishing it up at the end of that year.

      • Michael

        There is no need to fast track.
        As you said by 2015 Solar PV can operate unsubsidized.

    • Matthew Hopkins

      FiTs are needed as an off-take mechanism. I can build PV at around 10c/kWh (with RECs), however, in the absence of a FiT for medium scale systems, no one will buy the power! Retailers purchase in the wholesale market @ ~ 4c/kWh.

      Until renewables can compete in the wholesale market Fits are needed – for PV 1:1 would do.