australian solar

Sharing solar power with your neighbours

australian solarSmart metering has come a long way. Most Victorian customers are now billed via a smart meter. There’s been some hiccups along the way but generally speaking, for the bulk of customers their data is available daily and through the Jemena and United portals where an up-to-the-hour query will give customers the latest data, direct from their meter. For the rest of the country, smart meters are on their way and – with the added incentive of them actually doing something smart, such as controlling household appliances – the demand for their widespread deployment will grow.

So what could be smarter about smart meters other than virtual net-metering with real-time visibility?

A virtual net-metering revolution has quietly occurred in a number of places around the world, including California in the US. California’s version of virtual net-metering allows Californians living in a multi-dwelling building, such as an apartment complex, to have a shared solar system with a percentage of output from each interval (30 minutes is the standard for Australian smart meters) being allocated to each of the owners of the solar system. So if there were 10 residents in an apartment complex who owned a shared solar system on the roof generating 10kWh at midday, each customer would get 1kWh of power over one hour (two intervals), which would offset any of their usage during that period. If they didn’t use any power then their 1kWh would be exported and they’d be paid the same as any other solar PV owner.



China coal tariffs could impact Australia solar industry

Will Chinese tariffs on Australia's coal exports trigger tit-for-tat action that impacts solar?
Will Chinese tariffs on Australia’s coal exports trigger tit-for-tat action that impacts solar?

The surprise decision by China to impose tariffs on coal imports from Australia has raised the prospect of tit-for-tat action that could impact on the multi-billion solar industry in Australia.

The decision to impose – at least temporarily – a tariff of up to 6% on imports into China is yet another blow on Australian thermal coal in particular, which is suffering from reduced demand and plunging prices. Few Australian thermal coal mines are making profits.

But the decision could rebound on the Australian solar market. The Australian government is currently considering an anti-dumping case against imports of China solar modules brought by Adelaide-based Tindo Solar.

Any ruling against cheap Chinese solar modules imported into Australia could have been potentially difficult, considering Australia’s push for a free trade agreement.

But it could now become a bargaining chip in the spat of import duties on coal. The politics of any anti-dumping ruling on Chinese solar modules has just shifted dramatically.

The anti-dumping case was brought by Tindo Solar, a small module assembly company in Adelaide with a high-tech plant and a dozen employees, earlier this year.

Tindo is Australia’s last remaining manufacturer of modules (using imported cells and other equipment). It argued that solar modules were being dumped in Australia below the cost of manufacture.

“Here at Tindo, we are passionate about creating new and innovative manufacturing jobs in this country and we are supportive of any initiative that embeds a fair go and a fair market place for Australian manufacturers” Tindo’s Richard Inwood, said at the time.

“We hope the investigation here will help achieve a level playing field in the market.”

But Tindo’s move has gotten no support in the remainder of the industry, which relies almost exclusively on renewable (installations of around 800MW versus Tindo’s current capacity of less than 10MW). While some acknowledged an issue with the imports of poor quality panels at the cheaper end, the major manufacturers reject any notion of dumping in the Australian market.

They fear that any ruling will have an impact across the board. Developers of large-scale solar projects – and there are many in the pipeline – say that any tariff would remove the small margins on project finance.

The industry says that import duties would raise the cost of solar PV modules, reduce sales, cause significant job losses and be only partly offset by an increase in solar module manufacturing jobs. “It is one more layer of uncertainty that none of us need,” said Douglas Smith, the head of Trina Australia at a conference in July. “Don’t underestimate the lengths that opponents (of the solar industry) will go to.”

Focused investigation
The industry has tried to reduce the focus of the investigation into smaller 60-cell modules mostly used on rooftop installations, and not the larger 72-cell modules being imported for large-scale projects. FRV, which built the largest solar farm to date in the SCT, and is soon to begin construction on a 56MW project in Moree, also argued the same point.

“The utility scale solar market in Australia is still in its infancy and we believe the introduction of any tariff will have a considerable detrimental effect on the development of the industry,” wrote Infigen Energy in its submission.

However, the anti-dumping commissions is believed to have rejected those entreaties and its probe remains broad. The impact of a tariff on rooftop modules could be significant – or perhaps not as great as the removal of the renewable energy target – and there are fears it could be used as a political weapon by the government.

While the anti-dumping commission will largely look at economic factors, the broader political implications will be decided by Bob Baldwin, the parliamentary secretary assisting the Industry Minister, and Cabinet.

The anti-dumping ruling is expected soon, possibly within a week or two, with the government to hand down its decision a month later. Baldwin indicated in July that the government would take any such decisions “to the edge” of World Trade Organisation rules.

Asked to explain what this meant, Baldwin said recently: “In general, there is a submission for cabinet to enhance and strengthen … to take anti-dumping rules to the edge of what the World Trade Organisation allows … to make sure that our industries compete on a level playing field.”

Leveling the playing field
The issue has also been raised by independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who told RenewEconomy on Thursday: “Panels are coming in from China and are breaching, I think, WTO rules. Europe and the US have slapped tariffs on them and we haven’t. (These cheap imports) are killing Tindo and they could employ hundreds of more people and ramp up production. We could have new manufacturers coming into the market place.”

Xenophon also said it was an issue around quality. And if cheap panels were stopped, it would give the likes of Tindo to increase production and reduce unit costs.

There are also fears that the government could use the anti-dumping findings to put pressure on the solar industry, particularly if it is forced to back-track on plans to halt, or reduce, the renewable energy target. The small-scale solar market now looks relatively safe from policy changes, but the fossil fuel industry is still anxious that its rapid growth be curtailed by the removal of remaining subsidies.

Greens Senator Christine Milne in July warned that the government could use the anti-dumping rules to continue its campaign against solar. “Anything that makes solar more expensive than coal will be supported by the government. They could have come out in support of manufacturing but they had zero interest with SPC Ardmona and the car industry. It would be ironic if they suddenly took an interest in manufacturing now.”

The investigation is looking into four importers – Trina, ET Solar, Renesolar, and Suntech – but is believed to have only inspected one of these importers. However, any findings could impact the whole industry. The commission could recommend variable tariffs against modules, and they could be retrospective.

A statement of essential facts – which would give an indication of their assessment – was to have been released in early September, but has been delayed until November, and could be delayed further. A decision by government will be pushed into next year, by which time the coal tariff agreement could have been resolved, and a free trade agreement signed as well. The solar industry will be hoping so.

Australians Love Solar!


Australians overwhelmingly support distributed electricity generation, particularly solar, according to a recent survey there.

The Australian Photovoltaic Association commissioned the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to determine public sentiment and willingness regarding solar energy and the willingness of Australians to adopt it.

Of the 2,643 respondents, 26.3 percent already had some type of solar panels installed at their homes – complete solar PV or hot water systems or just a couple panels to power specific appliances.

Among those who already has some kind of solar installed, more than 70 percent said they were happy with their systems and would consider investing further in the technology. Among those survey respondent who did not already have solar panels, more than two-thirds said they supported distributed generation and would consider investing in solar. Homeowners were more likely to support the technology than renters and people living in single-family homes were more likely to say they would invest in solar than people living in condominiums or apartments.

“The survey results indicated that overall, there is general support by householders to participate in the distributed energy market,” according to the report, “particularly through the installation of solar hot water heaters, solar photovoltaic systems connected to the grid for energy generation and with battery backup.”

Most respondents said they felt buying solar systems outright was the best way to make an investment in renewable energy. The least popular method for going solar was the use of energy service companies, which is equivalent to third-party-owned systems and solar leases in the United States. More than a quarter of respondents said they wouldn’t even consider contracting to buy renewable energy. But more than 56 percent said they would think about signing a contract if they would save money on their electricity bills.

The Australian Photovoltaic Association has seen rapid growth in the industry over recent years. While lower solar panel prices have been driving greater demand for the technology all over the world, Australians have another reason to go solar.

Electricity rates in the country climbed more than 40 percent between 2009 and 2012. Those high power prices combined with falling solar prices have made the technology naturally more attractive.

However, the report also notes that increased government incentives, such as renewable energy certificates, solar rebates and feed in tariffs, have contributed to a rapid surge in the installed solar capacity in Australia.

The capacity skyrocketed from 123 megawatts in 2009 to 305 megawatts in 2010 and 1,450 megawatts in February 2012. More than a year later, capacity is even higher in the country with every indication that favorable public sentiment regarding solar could continue fueling industry growth.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Extreme Weather in Australia: A Casualty of Climate Change?


This 2013 report from the Climate Commission offers a review of the current state of our knowledge about different types of extreme weather events in Australia. These events include extreme temperatures, rainfall, drought, bush fires, storm surges, cyclones and storms. Here is a summary of some of the key findings from the report titled The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather.

1. Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of many extreme weather events, adversely affecting Australians. Extreme events occur naturally and weather records are broken from time to time. However, climate change is influencing these events and record-breaking weather is becoming more common around the world.

Some Australian examples include:

  • Heat: Extreme heat is increasing across Australia. There will still be record cold events, but hot records are now happening three times more often than cold records.
  • Bushfire weather: Extreme fire weather has increased in many parts of Australia, including southern NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and parts of South Australia, over the last 30 years.
  • Rainfall: Heavy rainfall has increased globally. Over the last three years Australia’s east coast has experienced several very heavy rainfall events, fuelled by record-high surface water temperatures in the adjacent seas.
  • Drought: A long-term drying trend is affecting the southwest corner of Western Australia, which has experienced a 15% drop in rainfall since the mid-1970s.

Sea-level rise: Sea level has already risen 20 cm. This means that storm surges ride on sea levels that are higher than they were a century ago, increasing the risk of flooding along Australia’s socially, economically and environmentally important coastlines.

2. Climate change is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment. This highlights the need to take rapid, effective action on climate change.

It is crucial that communities, emergency services, health and medical services and other authorities prepare for the increases that are already occurring in the severity and frequency of many types of extreme weather. The southeast of Australia, including many of our largest population centres, stands out as being at increased risk from many extreme weather events – heatwaves, bushfires, heavy rainfall and sea-level rise.

Key food-growing regions across the southeast and the southwest are likely to experience more drought in the future. Some of Australia’s iconic ecosystems are threatened by climate change. Over the past three decades the Great Barrier Reef has suffered repeated bleaching events from underwater heatwaves. The freshwater wetlands of Kakadu National Park are at risk from saltwater intrusion due to rising sea level.

3. The climate system has shifted, and is continuing to shift, changing the conditions for all weather, including extreme weather events. Levels of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels have increased by around 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, causing the Earth’s surface to warm significantly. All weather events are now occurring in global climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago. This has loaded the dice towards more frequent and more severe extreme weather events.

4. There is a high risk that extreme weather events like heatwaves, heavy rainfall, bushfires and cyclones will become even more intense in Australia over the coming decades. There is little doubt that over the next few decades changes in these extreme events will increase the risks of adverse consequences to human health, agriculture, infrastructure and the environment. Stabilising the climate is like turning around a battleship – it cannot be done immediately given its momentum. When danger is ahead you must start turning the wheel now. Any delay means that it is more and more difficult to avert the future danger.

The climate system has strong momentum for further warming over the next few decades because of the greenhouse gases that have already been emitted, and those that will be emitted in future. This means that it is highly likely that extreme weather events will become even more severe in Australia over that period.

5. Only strong preventive action now and in the coming years can stabilise the climate and halt the trend of increasing extreme weather for our children and grandchildren. Averting danger requires strong preventative action. How quickly and deeply we reduce greenhouse gas emissions will greatly influence the severity of extreme events in the future.

The world is already moving to tackle climate change. Ninety countries, representing 90% of global emissions, are committed to reducing their emissions and have programs in place to achieve this. As the 15th largest emitter in the world, Australia has an important role to play.

Much more substantial action will be required if we are to stabilise the climate by the second half of the century. Globally emissions must be cut rapidly and deeply to nearly zero by 2050, with Australia playing its part. The decisions we make this decade will largely determine the severity of climate change and its influence on extreme events that our grandchildren will experience.

This is the critical decade to get on with the job.

To download The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather, click here.

Original Article on The Green Market Oracle

Australian Scientists Printing Solar Cells Down Under


Scientists have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells in Australia—10 times the size of what they were previously able to—thanks to a new solar cell printer that has been installed at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). The printer is relatively cheap, uses common industrial chemicals and the resulting solar cells have a decent power output of approximately 1-8W per square foot (10-80W per m2).

The printer has allowed researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC)—a collaboration between CSIRO, The University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners—to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.

According to CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins, printing cells on such a large scale opens up a huge range of possibilities for pilot applications.

“There are so many things we can do with cells this size,” he says. “We can set them into advertising signage, powering lights and other interactive elements. We can even embed them into laptop cases to provide backup power for the machine inside.”

The new printer, worth A$200,000, is a big step up for the VICOSC team. In just three years they have gone from making cells the size of a fingernail to cells 10cm square. Now with the new printer they have jumped to cells that are 30cm wide.

Dr Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells. (Credit: CSIRO)

Dr Scott Watkins holding a sheet of flexible solar cells. (Credit: CSIRO)

VICOSC project coordinator and University of Melbourne researcher Dr David Jones says that one of the great advantages of the group’s approach is that they’re using existing printing techniques, making it a very accessible technology.

“We’re using the same techniques that you would use if you were screen printing an image on to a T-Shirt,” he says.

Using semiconducting inks, the researchers print the cells straight onto paper-thin flexible plastic or steel. With the ability to print at speeds of up to ten metres per minute, this means they can produce one cell every two seconds.

As the researchers continue to scale up their equipment, the possibilities will become even greater.

“Eventually we see these being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers,” Dr Jones says. “By printing directly to materials like steel, we’ll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials.”

The organic photovoltaic cells, which produce 10–50 watts of power per square metre, could even be used to improve the efficiency of more traditional silicon solar panels.

“The different types of cells capture light from different parts of the solar spectrum. So rather than being competing technologies, they are actually very complementary,” Dr Watkins says.

The scientists predict that the future energy mix for the world, including Australia, will rely on many non-traditional energy sources. “We need to be at the forefront of developing new technologies that match our solar endowment, stimulate our science and support local, high-tech manufacturing.

“While the consortium is focused on developing applications with current industrial partners there are opportunities to work with other companies through training programs or pilot-scale production trials,” he says.

As part of the consortium, a complementary screen printing line is also being installed at nearby Monash University. Combined, they will make the Clayton Manufacturing and Materials Precinct one of the largest organic solar cell printing facilities in the world.

The Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium is a research collaboration between CSIRO, The University of Melbourne, Monash University, BlueScope Steel, Robert Bosch SEA, Innovia Films and Innovia Security. It is supported by the Victorian State Government and the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

Australians: Loving their Solar Panels


Suntech’s latest solar search and photo competition generated pictures and short statements from more than 400 customers across the country. All showed great enthusiasm for their Suntech products, lower energy bills and a reduced environmental impact.

One woman called herself a “groovy granny” who decided to “go green, minimizing her power bills, lessening her carbon footprint and helping to build a sunny future for her grandchildren.”

Another customer said that Suntech panels “make life bright by cutting lots off electricity bills for ALL SORTS of families.” . Eric B. of Queensland said, “Let the sun shine and enjoy the benefits of Suntech solar… we can make the world greener.”

One installer said Suntech solar panels are his biggest selling product due to “market leadership, excellent warranties, availability and their excellent price point.” Another said “better efficiency equals better ROI and less performance degradation over time.”

Dale C. of Victoria is perhaps the most enthusiastic of all. He entered Suntech’s Super Draw — launched alongside the Solar Search contest — and walked away with the Grand Prize: An eco-friendly retrofit worth AUD 20,000 (about USD 20,600) to complement the 4.5 kW Suntech system he’d purchased. With his new system, energy-efficient appliances and rainwater storage tanks, Dale may never have to pay an electricity bill again. “I was already very happy with the performance of my Suntech solar panels,” he said. “When I found out that I had won [the retrofit], that was just icing on the cake.”

Twenty-one other contest entrants received digital cameras, iPads and iPhones, and a handful received AUD 1,000 cash prizes. Indeed, when Suntech first called, Fiona M. of Queensland thought she was hearing a telemarketer’s pitch. Her skepticism turned to glee when she found out she’d won a reward. “It’s helped boost our payback period and made it even more worthwhile to make our house sustainable,” Fiona said. She called her husband Darrin a “kid with a new toy” who’s constantly checking his system to see how much electricity their home is generating.

Darrin, in a bit of friendly spousal rivalry, wanted Suntech to know that he’s the one cleaning the panels — not Fiona.

Raymond L., another AUD1,000 winner, said he’s happy to have won cash while “gaining free energy from the Sun and lower power bills thanks to Suntech solar panels — which is a win-win for me!!”

Suntech launched the SuperDraw campaign to commemorate the company’s 10th anniversary and celebrate its loyal customers and partners in Australia.

Original Article on Suntech Connect

In Focus: Australia’s Carbon Tax

Many countries require a strong and sudden push to enforce greener, more environmentally conscious policies. We’ve seen that in Germany. In light of Japan’s nuclear disaster, breakthroughs are being made and bills are being passed that ensures Germany will be being powered by safe and sustainable energy in the future. Germany’s scientists and politicians were able to learn valuable lessons in the face of disaster, enabling them to take the next, progressive step forward.

Other countries will require different incentives in order to create progress. Starting July 1st, Australia is implementing a startling new carbon tax in hopes that a strong enough monetary push will coerce companies to start lowering their emissions. The tax, part of a larger Clean Energy Act, will force the top 300 worst carbon emitting companies to pay US$24 for every ton of greenhouse gas they produce. To get a measure of just how steep the fee is, EU countries have similar taxes ranging between 8-12 US dollars; for many companies, this tax means a fee of several million dollars.

Of course, Australia’s crippling carbon tax was not made without good reason. The island nation houses around 22.5 million people – that is only 0.003% of the global population. However, this 0.003% makes almost 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest carbon emitter per capita in the world. In short, Australia’s energy policies are in desperate need of progressive change.

However, many citizens, not just businesses, are strictly against such a strong initiative – after all, the money has to come from somewhere. With businesses needing several extra million dollars in fees, the cost of popular commodities and consumer goods will also increase in order to meet the bottom line. For regular taxpayers, this means an increase in restaurant prices, airline tickets, and gas. It also means a decrease in jobs, wages, and public services. For those skeptical when it comes to climate change, this is a needless, economic burden in an economy still recovering from a recession.

Those who simply complain about the rising prices fail to see the point of the carbon tax. The fee is not meant to take profit away from companies with high emissions – rather, it is meant to deter them from emitting too much in the first place. The law would be more effective the less it is taking from these large companies.

That being said, the tax isn’t simply meant to tighten companies’ belts. Its secondary purpose is to promote green energy research – the more a company can rely on sustainable energy sources, the less emissions it creates and the less it has to pay in taxes. The end result is very similar to Germany’s sudden push for green energy – it’s just the incentive that’s different.

Progressive change usually requires some sort of catalyst. For some, it’s waking up to a catastrophic disaster; for others, it’s waking up to an empty wallet. Regardless of the push, the most important thing is that we become aware of the dangers present in climate change, and that we become progressive in our policies and research. We might have to carry a burden now, whether it’s the dead or the jobless, but it’s one we must carry for a better tomorrow.

Original Article on Greener.Ideal