Solar makes its presence felt on Australian energy markets | RenewEconomy

Solar makes its presence felt on Australian energy markets

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For the first time, we now have a complete picture of Australia’s electricity sources, including rooftop solar.

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nyngan solar 25MW
Nyngan solar farm


Solar is starting to have an impact on energy markets in Australia and around the world. And it has barely scratched the surface.

In its ground-breaking report in late 2013, the CSIRO predicted that up to half of Australia’s electricity needs will be met through distributed generation within a few decades.

With a few exceptions, that will almost exclusively be solar. And if the forecasts on the take-up of electric vehicles are close to being right, that will mean a significant part of Australia’s overall energy needs are met by solar – on the rooftops of homes and businesses, and in ground-mounted arrays close to demand sources.

Right now, it is estimated that rooftop solar already meets just over 2 per cent of electricity demand, but this is forecast – including by the Abbott government’s own review – to more than treble in coming years as more households rush to install solar.

In South Australia, rooftop solar already meets 6 per cent of demand – and up to one third during the daylight hours of some days – as part of that state’s extraordinary achievement of meeting more than 40 per cent of its electricity demand through wind and solar.

The problem is, the collective impact of Australia’s 4GW of rooftop solar – mounted on nearly 1.4 million homes and businesses – has been more or less invisible, apart from those coal-fired generators who say that solar is eroding their earnings.

About half of all rooftop solar PV production is consumed on sight, so the grid operator never sees it. Even the exports aren’t recognised in most data sources that show Australia’s electricity sources.

That makes the innovation that we are releasing today, through our partners at NEM-Watch, all the more exciting. For the first time, the contribution of small scale solar PV can be seen – along with that of brown and black coal, gas, wind and hydro. (And, in the state of Queensland, “other” sources such as biomass).

This is how it looks or click here for live data.

rooftop solar nem watch

The contribution of solar is made possible through the APVI’s Solar Map, which publishes half hourly estimates of solar output based on regional installations and local weather conditions. The Solar Map can be seen here.

The next big innovation will be inclusion of large scale solar. The 102MW Nyngan solar plant being constructed by First Solar is one quarter complete, with around 25MW hooked up to the grid – although it is not yet contributing.

When that exceeds 50MW, we are likely to see big solar make its presence felt. (The 20MW Royalla solar farm does not show up in AEMO data, so is not visible here. The 10MW Greenough River solar farm is not in the National Electricity Market, and neither are many smaller solar installations in remote regions such as Alice Springs and elsewhere.

Paul McArdle, from Global Roam, said the emergence of several different technologies and policy priorities which further increases the complexity of the market that underpins an Australian essential service.

“Since late 2014 we’ve been delighted to work with RenewEconomy through the provision of the NEM-Watch widget to help provide a clear view of the mix of different generation sources supplying the NEM.  The feedback we’ve received suggests that RenewEconomy readers do appreciate this service,” he said.

“From 20th March 2015, the addition of small-scale solar (from the ARENA-funded APVI project) makes the picture a better reflection of the nature of the electricity that we’re all consuming.

“We will continue watching with great interest to see how the NEM continues to evolve, and look forward to receiving more feedback.”

We will let you know when Nyngan starts.


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  1. Finn Peacock 5 years ago

    Brilliant Giles, just what this widget needed. Thank You.

    How about a tab that shows GHG emissions per state (simple multiplier based on the current numbers)?

    • Paul McArdle 5 years ago

      See the image below, Finn, taken from the full version of our NEM-Watch application (

      Regional emissions intensity is one of the (many) other data elements provided in the full version, which is available for licence.

      On occasions we also use NEM-Watch to illustrate market commentary provided at no charge on

      • Chris Baker 5 years ago

        Interesting site you have there Paul. I’ve book marked it for future. I’m looking forward to the day when the NEM comes to my iPhone and I can control my power use to reduce my demand when the cost goes high… But we need our retailers to be less Neanderthal in their thinking huh. Keep innovating…

        • Paul McArdle 5 years ago


          For more than 10 years we have worked to facilitate Demand Response with large commercial & industrial energy users, as we note here:

          I suspect that your views (of wanting to be active in controlling your consumption at home in times of high price) are not shared by the majority of residential energy users. My sense is that a smarter way to make residential DR effective (enmasse) is to establish automated processes, with the permission of willing residential energy users – as Gerard alluded to here:


          • Chris Baker 5 years ago

            I expect you are right — en masse we need automated systems to enable the demand response. As well I imagine as a willing energy user I might have control of some settings that would adjust my system’s response according to my needs of the day. When I have an electric car attached to the grid, and I expect I won’t be using my car for the next 10 hours, I might choose to allow its battery to be run down to feed the grid. But then tomorrow at the same time I plan to use the car, and I need its battery to be kept full… However it turns out, I think we are in for an interesting ride.

          • Alen T 5 years ago

            The cost of this process will be interesting, specifically I refer to the tariffs the network will be giving you. The higher cycling of the battery will mean an earlier replacement, so a payment of 6 c/kWh (FiT in region around here) will not convince me to connect my EV to the grid.

          • Chris Baker 5 years ago

            Ah yes indeed. As Gerard’s article, linked by Paul above, notes: what’s needed is a true cost-reflective tariff. If that can be done well, the feed in tariff may not be not so important. Even without a feed in tariff, but just a time of day tariff, I might choose to supply my own loads from the car battery, and not draw from the grid. Perhaps this is the kind of demand response that Paul is thinking about.

  2. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    If i have understood correctly the full-colured bars measures the ‘total’ or ‘latent’ energy demand of each State, of which PV is the orange bit. The bars allow us to see the total PV energy produced, even if some of it was consumed on-site in daytime ?

    • Paul McArdle 5 years ago

      To clarify, Chris – the bars show how much energy is actually being generated in each 5 minute period as a MW rate (or MWh per hour).

      If I am interpreting your question correctly, you’re inferring that there might be some time-shifted storage occurring. This is not economically possible, at scale, in the NEM (or in any large interconnected grid) at present.

      In simple terms, think about it as a pool with a constant level – what flows in at one end (in terms of energy produced) must flow out at the other (in terms of energy consumed) in order to keep the pool level the same.

  3. Alen T 5 years ago

    Interesting, I’m curious if you have some data available comparing and assessing performance of mono/polysilicon PV against thin film PV? I recently read in a publication from Dr P. Lidemann that thin film produced 30-60% more energy on an annual basis than C-Si PV. Thin film has a large player in First Solar in the US, but I’m not having fun finding decent market players over here, especially finding reliable local data verifying this claim.

    • john 5 years ago

      possibly try PVoutput
      in low light situations ie like north America then thin film works well

  4. Social responsibility is dead. 5 years ago

    Is there any info on WA power generation? Roof top solar is quite popular here, as is wind power in some coastal places.
    But the state government is also supporting coal, very disappointing.

    • Giles 5 years ago

      Best place to look is which provides live data from all, including wind farms and greenough river solar farm – but not on rooftop solar.

      • Andrew Woodroffe 5 years ago

        The IMO has a frightening amount of info on that website. Rooftop systems are too small to need to communicate with the network (beyond synchronising) which means their output can only be modeled. IMO Estimates output averages 28% of peak load for the current fleet. They hope to have a rooftop output display (again, modeled but using actual data from a number of the larger rooftop systems) soon.

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