Given that the Australian rooftop solar PV industry is now a multi-billion dollar sector, volume becomes a key test of the success of installers and retailers, although by no means the only ones. The failure of a bunch of companies over the last few months suggests that margins – and inventory management – are still major issues.
According to industry forecasts, the Australian rooftop solar business could add anything between 700MW and 1,200MW in 2012 – despite (or maybe because of) the dramatic changes in tariffs over the last 12 months. That suggest revenue of at least $2 billion and as much as $3.5 billion for the industry.
But, as this data from Warwick Johnston of SunWiz shows, it remains a highly fractured industry. Of the big utilities, Origin Energy remains one of the top three, while AGL Energy is also in the top 10. (AGL Energy said later its AGL Solar business, bought in July last year, grew sales by 25 per cent and installed 8MW in the past 12 months, which it said gave it a ranking of No 5 excluding aggregators)
Is China solar market bursting?
The domestic China market for solar PV was expected to be one of the big growth areas for the industry in 2012, with some manufacturers predicting deployment of up to 7,000MW – which would rank it alongside Germany as the biggest market for the year. However, Trina Solar said the China market was not expanding as quickly as thought, and may only be worth 4,000MW to 5,000MW this year. It should be noted, however, that Trina has a relatively small exposure to its own domestic market, which accounts for only 5 per cent of sales.
The results of Trina and Canadian Solar do underline a major point – that although manufacturers are being thumped by a margin crunch and oversupply – the cost of manufacturing solar modules continues to fall rapidly. Trina said the non-silicon cost of manufacturing modules had fallen 11 per cent in a single quarter to $0.52 per watt, and was on target to reduce it below $0.50 per watt by the end of 2012 – due to improved supply chain costs, increases in module efficiencies, and improvements in the manufacturing process. Canadian Solar said it had also achieved a 10 per cent reduction in all-in module costs to $0.67/W over the quarter – shared by reduction in the cost of silicon wafer and the cost of cellular module processing in its factory – and aimed to bring this below $0.60 per watt by the end of 2012.
Australia is rated with one of the best solar resources in the world, but data on how much, and where and when, has not been widely available. That is about to change with the launch of a new resource plotting one minute data. The collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Solar Institute – which essentially makes data previously reserved for the BoM available to the public – is expected to reinforce the investment case for solar farms, as investors and financiers like to be able to rely on established data, and make it easier and cheaper to design plants, and understand their impact on the grid.
It is just one of a number of initiatives being undertaken that will improve the solar data resource. The second is a collaboration between Geoscience Australia and the Department of Resources and Energy that will supply live solar, while the CSIRO are also working on forecasting techniques – similar to one developed for wind energy – which may not remove the intermittency of solar, but will make it predictable, which is critically important for the management of the grid.
Kyocera deploys panels in Fiji
US-based Kyocera Solar is installing 405kW of solar modules on islands in Fiji that will power more than 2,000 villages. The company has already installed one-third of the modules, with the rest to be completed by the end of the year. “Solar energy makes so much sense for island nations that often lack an electricity grid infrastructure but have an abundance of sunshine year-round,” said George Phani, sales manager for Kyocera Solar Australia. “With our Kyocera modules, many Fijians have been given light and other electricity into the night – maybe for the first time. We hope this program can serve as a template for other islands to follow.” Kyocera said it has partnered with Powerlite Generators (Fiji) to install 3,000 solar modules. Each system includes at least one 135-watt Kyocera module, a regulator, maintenance-free batteries, and both indoor and outdoor lighting.