Solar Insights – Australia’s solar hotspots

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Australia’s latest solar data; commercial PV accelerates; the anti-dumping fallout; gigawatt projects in Serbia and China; subsidy-free projects in Spain and Chile.

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Australia’s solar hotspots 

Australia’s solar market grew 61MW in the month of April, maintaining a fairly steady rollout over previous months, with Queensland accounting for nearly half the total. According to data assembled by leading industry analyst Warwick Johnston of SunWiz Consulting, the 61MW reflects the amount of PV registered – rather than installed in Australia in April – but even though there is a lag in registrations, it is a fair reflection of the market.

Johnston’s data suggests a jump in registration of renewable energy certificates in recent weeks, confirming industry talk that the number of installations will jump ahead of the winding back of the federal government’s solar multiplier from three to two on July 1. Queensland, the only state to retain its feed in tariff, accounted for 40 per cent of installations in April, with Miara and Waterloo on the central Queensland coast near Bundaberg emerging as one of the nation’s solar hotspots, installing 1MW in the last quarter, taking the total for the postcode to 6MW.

Commercial solar taking off 

The move into commercial scale solar appears to be accelerating in Australia, with numerous installers and consultants reporting increased interest from retailers, manufacturers and others looking to use their roof space to defray electricity costs. Commercial scale solar PV – broadly defined as that between 30kW and 100kW (though some systems will be bigger) – was identified by McKinsey & Co as one of the key solar markets already offering parity with the electricity consumed from the grid. Nigel Morris, from Solar Business Services, estimates that commercial solar PV could account for nearly one third of the Australian solar PV market by the end of 2012, up from around 7 per cent in 2011.

US corporate giants Apple and WalMart are announcing large rollouts of solar PV to defray their electricity costs – and boost their green credentials – and it seems Australian corporates are also looking at it. Peter Newman, the head of Quantic, an advisory firm, said he had recently secured a deal for a 100kW system for a shopping centre in Port Macquarie. He said the payback times for investment is now down to five years. “Grid parity for private companies really sits now within normal commercial propositions. It’s a pretty compelling proposition.”

The anti-dumping fallout

The solar industry is trying to work out the impact of the preliminary decision by the US Commerce department on anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar module imports into the US. The duties, which range between 30 per cent to 250 per cent, are worse than expectations of 10-20 per cent, and could cause the price of solar panels in the US to rise around 17 per cent to an average $1.11/watt – although the quantum may depend on the ability of Chinese manufacturers to source some production out of Taiwan.

Analysts say this is a setback because it means solar electricity prices in the US will rise precisely at the moment solar power is becoming competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity. The debate has pitched solar developers and installers in the US, backed by Chinese manufacturers, against an alliance of US and European manufacturers. German owned manufacturer SolarWorld, the driving force behind the push for anti-dumping, is now pushing for a similar ruling in Europe. Some analysts say any benefit to US manufacturers will be shortlived. “They will still get smoked by the Chinese,” Charles Yonts, an alternative-energy analyst at CLSA in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.

Gigawatt projects

The past week has been notable for a couple of gigawatt-plus developments of solar PV. In Serbia, the government signed a memorandum for the development of what it claims will be the world’s largest solar park, a 1,000MW capacity facility that will be built over three- to five years at a cost of around €2 billion. The project is being developed by Securum Partners, with Italy’s MX Group to do the construction work and will establish a new panel production facility in Serbia.

Meanwhile, in China, the Jinchang Municipal Government has signed an agreement with Shanghai-based Alex Solar to build a solar park, also with 1,000MW of solar PV capacity, over a five year period to 2016. The 11 billion yuan ($A1.7 billion) investment will be financed and developed solely by Alex Solar, which will built a new factory in the city with an annual capacity of 300MW. Jinchang City is located in the resources (and solar) rich province of Gansu.

Look, no subsidies!

Spain’s Extremadura region has announced the fifth project in the country to be built without the support of feed in tariffs of other subsidies, which were withdrawn earlier this year. The region said it had granted a permit to Germany company Solarstrom to fast-track a 400MW solar park worth €450 million ($570 million). “It will be the first of this size in Europe that will generate power without state subsidies,” Solarstrom board member Oliver Guenther told journalists last week.

It is the third plant announced for the region since the withdrawal of subsidies. Extramadura signed an agreement on May 10 with Ecoenergias del Guadiana, a local developer, for a 500MW solar park in Usagre for €725 million and in April endorsed a 250MW project planned by another German developer, Gehrlicher Solar, for about €250. In Murcia, Germany’s Wuerth and Spain’s Gestamp Renewables have announced solar parks of a similar scale.

In Chile, there an estimated 2,500MW of solar PV and solar thermal projects in the pipeline, despite the absence of feed in tariffs or other incentives. Many of the projects are being funded by mining companies hungry for energy sources (Origin Energy is looking at hydro and geothermal in the region). According to Chile’s Renewable Energy Center, 685MW of projects have been approved and are awaiting the start of construction, and a further 1903MW are awaiting permits. The Atacama Desert in the north of the country receives some of the highest levels of solar irradiance on earth, and low rainfall. German solar giant juwi, US-based First Solar and Ingenostrum, which plans to build six solar PV projects totaling 688MW generating capacity, are among those lining up for contracts.

And also ….

In other solar news, WalMart says it will install a total of 10.5MW of solar panels on 27 of its 50 stores in Massachussets, Apple is to build two 20MW solar plants (and a 5MW Bloom fuel cell facility) to ensure its icloud data centre in North Carolina is powered entirely on renewables, while Japan’s peak solar body estimates that solar shipments will exceed 2.5GW in the year ending March 2013.

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