Solar power in Australia (2)

Sun on the Bush
This page gives a few of what I think are interesting points about solar power especially as it is developing in Australia.
Written mainly around 2012/13

Other pages on this site...
Australia's energy future is more up to date

Solar Power gives a historical snapshot of solar in Australia around 2008 to 2010.

Renewable developments gives a list of the more impressive renewable energy developments in Australia.

Mount Majura community-owned solar farm, ACT
Mount Majura

Written 2012/04/10, last edited 2022/01/11
Contact, David K. Clarke – ©
I, David Clarke, the writer of these pages, am independent of any company, lobby group, or government.


Among developed nations Australia is exceptionally well suited for solar power: it has a location relatively near the equator and mostly clear skies. Australian scientists have been in the forefront of solar power research, some of the most efficient solar photovoltaic (PV) cells were developed in Australian universities.


On the cusp?

Large-scale solar PV

In mid 2017 it seems that new solar energy installations are changing from predominantly small-scale domestic roof-top to large-scale energy parks. The Clean Energy Council published a page on 2017/05/02 in which it listed 1.92GW of large-scale solar farms expected to at least start construction by the end of the year. At the time there was only a fraction of one GW operating in the whole of Australia.

Small-scale solar PV

Meanwhile, the number of small-scale PV systems being installed has decreased, but the capacity of each has tended to increase, so the installation amount in megawatts has remained pretty constant.

Solar PV panels are dark coloured

It has been pointed out that the current (around 2000-2012) fashion for slate-grey roofs, which in some cases predominate in large developments, absorb more solar radiation than would light coloured roofs; which would bounce much of the radiation back into space. Once absorbed, the heat is re-radiated or passed to the air by conduction.

A city with predominantly light coloured roofs will therefore be cooler than a city with predominantly dark coloured roofs and a world with predominantly dark-roofed cities will be warmer than a world with predominantly light-roofed cities.

Solar panels are likewise dark coloured and covering large areas with them will have a warming effect (only about 15% of the light falling on a PV panel is converted into electrcity). This is not to say that we should not deploy solar panels, but does suggest yet again that the best way to combat global warming is to reduce our power consumption.

In spite of these advantages, Australia is one of the slower developed nations in taking up solar energy; this has been due to plentiful and cheap coal and government policies being influenced by a very strong fossil fuel lobby.

However, around 2010 things did improve. With Labor governments in most (or was it all) states at that time, schemes were put in place to encourage people to install solar PV on their homes and businesses. The Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator (ORER; since replaced by the Clean Energy Regulator) released a spread-sheet recording the amount of solar take-up for the whole of Australia by postcode. Up to and including September 2011 there were 520 000 small PV installations in Australia. At the time there were around eight and a half million homes, indicating that about 6% of Australian homes had solar power.

Unfortunately, with Labor governments being replaced by Liberal across the country, we can expect little encouragement for renewable energy in the next few years. (I should not forget to point out that Labor's policies on renewables look good only when compared to those of the LNP; Labor too gives far to much to the fossil fuel lobby.)

Whichever government is in power in the future, solar PV is becoming price-competative with fossil fuels and this will see a steadily increasing take-up of solar power; for example, car parks with solar shade will be coming soon.

Solar power by states

This table is based on 'small scale solar installations by postcode' as published by the Renewable Energy Regulator in early March 2015 and 'ranked list of states and territories of Australia' in Wikipedia (2015/04/30). The wind power numbers were my own calculations.

StateSolar MW
Solar Watts
per person
Wind power
NT18.724277 0
NSW+ACT884.97822113 59
Qld1308.04676280 3
SA586.71675350 881
Tas.82.3513160 600
Vic.736.85769128 185
WA456.42536180 190
Aust.4073.823,233175 146

The columns:

  1. State or territory name
  2. Total megawatts of installed small-scale solar PV in that state
  3. Population of that state in thousands
  4. Installed Watts of solar PV per person
  5. Installed Watts of utility-scale wind power per person, for comparison

I have lumped the ACT in with NSW because it is not easy to separate the two based on postcodes.

Summary table of solar installations

The table below shows the size of the solar installations discussed on this page.

NameInstalled capacity (MW)State or territory
Carwarp1.5 Victoria
DeGrussa mine10.6 WA
Greenough River 10.0WA
Jamestown floating solar 0.4SA
Lake Cargelligo 3.0NSW
Nyngan102.0 NSW
Royalla20.0 ACT


Insolation - where the sun shines brightest

World Insolation
World insolation
Acknowledgement WorlyParsons - EcoNomics
The map on the right shows insolation rates on the world's land areas; the units, I believe, are kilowatt-hours per square metre per year. The desert areas get the most sunlight because they have less cloud cover than the better watered areas.

The map indicates that Australia has very high levels of solar power available for development, the SW part of the US is the only other part of a developed nation that comes close.

Insolation in Australia is shown in greater detail below.

Australian Insolation
Australian insolation
Acknowledgement WorlyParsons - EcoNomics
The map on the right, using the same colour-coding as that above, shows insolation within Australia. Any of the areas coloured red would be very well suited for solar power.

Types of solar power

By far the greatest problem in the economic use of solar power is due to the low intensity at which it reaches the surface of the Earth. Whatever is used to collect it must cover a large area and therefore must be low in cost per unit of area covered. In some applications the radiation is collected direct (eg. the common photo voltaic panels) and in others the radiation is concentrated in some way.

Several methods of collecting solar power are (the links are to examples illustrated on this page):

  • Photo voltaic
    • Flat pannel collectors
      • Crystaline silicon
      • Amorphous silicon
      • Gallium arsenide
    • Dish concentrators (shine concentrated sunlight onto relatively small PV panels that need to be actively cooled)
  • Thermal
    • No concentration
    • Linear concentrators
      • Trough concentrators
      • Fresnel concentrators
    • Array concentrators
      • Power tower (a single collector in a large array of reflectors)
      • Modular power towers (an array of power tower modules)
    • Dish concentrators
      • Repeated modules (many dishes of moderate size)
Photo voltaic systems generate electricity directly. Thermal energy collectors heat something - usually a fluid, but possibly something like a Stirling engine - as an intermediate step toward the production of useful energy.

Several of the above methods have been brought to the stage of commercial viability, the others have gone only to the pilot stage.

This section added 2017/04/20

Mobile solar power stations

By Sophie Vorrath, April 20, 2017; in OneStepOffTheGrid.
"Australian developed solar technology that aims to tackle the dominance of diesel generators in the temporary power market will be tested at the 1 MW scale in New South Wales, off the back of a new grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

The modular, mobile solar power solution was developed by the Australian arm of UK-based builder Laing O'Rourke, initially as a way to cut diesel fuel costs at the company's own remote construction sites."
The article said that the solar unit, with optional battery storage and backup diesel or gas generation, could be set up or removed in a matter of days.

This could prove to be very important in the future of solar power in Australia and beyond.

This section added 2017/04/11
Updated 2019/12/05

Bungala Solar Farm

Location of Bungala solar farm
Bungala location
Approximately 8km NNE of Port Augusta
I believe the road just to the west of the solar farm is Yorkey's Crossing Road; the solar farm does not seem to be accessible from this road.
Image supplied by Port Augusta City Council
On 2017/07/27 RenewEconomy carried an article that stated that construction had started on the first 110 MW AC stage of a 275 MW DC, 220 MW AC solar power station. Since then the whole project has been completed; see Power Technology.

Earlier news releases had stated that the solar farm would occupy 800ha of land owned by the Bungala Aboriginal Corporation. It will be about 8km nor-nor-east of Port Augusta (not 12km east as stated in the RenewEconomy article). It will use tracking solar pannels.

I believe that, at the time of writing, Nyngan Solar Farm, at 102 MW, was the biggest in Australia. Bungala will more than double that (if and when the whole thing is built).

Getting there

I visited Bungala on 2018/05/10. While Yorkie's Crossing Road (the road to the lower left of the solar farm on the map on the right) goes very close, nothing of the farm is visible from Yorkie's Crossing Road. To get to the farm from Port Augusta take Carlton Parade which leads onto Depot Creek Road – the road shown to the lower right of the farm on the map.

Two photos of Bungala under construction is below. Note that you won't see much from the ground.

Bungala Solar Farm, Stage 1, under construction
Bungalla Solar Farm
Photo taken with my drone, 2018/05/10

Bungalla Solar Farm
Photo taken from ground level, 2018/05/10

Updated 2013/12/04

Carwarp Solar Farm

Also known as Mildura Solar Farm

Carwarp Solar Farm
Carwarp solar
Google Earth image; downloaded 2013/02/28
ReNewEconomy carried an article on 2013/08/17 noting that this "power plant was officiall opened today", and gave the installed capacity as 1.5 MW.

Solar Systems' pdf page on the project stated that it was expected to cost about $1 million, have an installed capacity of 2 MW, and generate 4 to 4.5 GWh per annum.

The Google Earth image on the right shows that a part was in place at the time the photograph was taken. A friend has since told me that it is (October 2013) completed. The installation is about 1.7 km SW of Carwarp, which is about 28 km south of Mildura.

There seems to be remarkably little on the Internet about the project, but Solar Choice has a page (dated 2012/02/22).

Updated 2018/02/26

DeGrussa copper mine solar farm

Juwi Renewable Energy PL has constructed a 10.6 MW solar farm at Sandfire Resources' DeGrussa Copper Mine in WA. Completion was announced on 2016/06/08.

This is of particular interest because the mining industry in Australia has been remarkably slow to adopt renewable energy. It has tended to stay with diesel power generation in spite of this being much more expensive than solar PV. Wikipedia gives LCOEs (Levelised Cost Of Energy) from investment bank Lazard as between:
US$50-70/MWh for utility scale solar PV and
US$212-281/MWh for diesel recipricating engine.

Why has the mining industry been so slow to make use of solar PV? Could it be an antipathy to the renewables industry because it is seen as a competitor, or is it because mines generally have a fairly short life while a solar PV system needs a few years of operation to financially justify its capital costs? Perhaps a combination of the two?

ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) has partly funded this development in the recognition that the take-up of renewables in the mining industry needed a kick-start.

Edited 2014/06/17

Greenhough River solar farm

Australia's first utility-scale solar farm was officially opened on 2012/10/10, see RenewEconomy.

The solar farm is 10 MW, large in solar power terms, but small compared to a typical wind farm. It consists of 150 000 solar photovoltaic panels and is about 50km south-east of Geraldton in Western Australia.

Latitude 28.904°, longitude 115.117°

Google Earth image
Google Earth image
Obtained from Internet on 2014/06/17
Thanks to Matt Kitching for telling me it was available

Jamestown floating solar

Floating PV panels proposed for Jamestown, South Australia
Floating PV panels
Image credit ABC
This project seems to have come to nothing, which is a pity because it had some unique features. The solar array would have had dual use; it would have reduced evaporation on the ponds as well as generating electricity. At the same time, the water would have increased the efficiency of the panels by keeping them cool.

The project was originally announced by Geits ANZ around May 2014. They said they were intending to use the power plant to supply 'behind the meter' power to one or more businesses that are at some distance from the installation; in effect setting up a micro grid quite separate from the eastern Australian electricity grid. It will be about 600m from a saw mill and two and a half kilometres from the centre of Jamestown. It will supply cheap electricity that will replace expensive electricity that would otherwise come from the power grid.

It seems that the company in charge of the project in June 2016 was Infratech Industries, who have a not very informative Net page on the project.

Pilot floating solar power installation
floating solar
On common effluent ponds at Jamestown in Mid-North South Austalia
The photo on the right is all that was in place in late 2016.

Updated 2013/12/04

Lake Cargelligo solar farm

Google Earth image
Lake Cargelligo
NSW, Latitude -33.3115°, Longitude 146.4097°
Giles Parkinson and Renew Economy ran an article on this solar power installation and the company that built it on 2013/04/18.

Giles wrote "An Australian solar thermal technology developer says it can provide concentrated solar thermal energy to outback and remote locations for just 8c/kWh, and hopes to sign for its first two commercial projects within the next few months." and "The distinguishing feature of Graphite Energy's technology is that it uses graphite receivers that are mounted on towers to collect heat reflected from a field of heliostats (mirrors), and its ability to store energy via heat exchanges gives it an 'in-built' storage option that delivers 'dispatchable' energy."

I'd like to thank Matt Kitching for allerting me to this. Much of my spare time is taken up in trying to counter the disinformation spread by the anti-wind power lobby and I cannot spend as much time and effort on solar energy as I'd like to.

Solar Power Today has an article on the Lake Cargelligo project, which it says is a 3 MW installation. SPT said:

"The company [Graphite Energy] is already in talks with two potential customers for its technology in remote areas of Western Australia. These are probably mining related since it would require a minimum of 15 MW."

This item added 2016/06/27

Moree Solar Farm

Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) has a Net Page on the project.

As of 2016/06/27 the 56 MW project has a power purchase agreement with Origin Energy in place and it had begun feeding electricity into the Australian national electricity grid.

Edited 2017/07/06

Nyngan Solar Farm

Nyngan Solar farm
Solar farm
My photo, 2017/04/05
RenewEconmy carried an article written by Sophie Vorrath on 2013/12/02 about what was claimed will be the largest solar power station in the Southern Hemesphere, a Aus$300m, 102 MW PV installation at Nyngan in inland NSW.

The article said that it was to be owned by AGL, built by First Solar, and that construction was to start in January 2014. Australian manufacturing company IXL Group is to supply major structural components for the project. Completion is expected to be in June 2015.

It is expected that its 1 350 000 solar modules will generate around 230 000 MWh of electricity per annum.

Also see here for my visit to Nyngan solar farm in 2017.

Added 2017/08/15

Port Augusta solar thermal

On 2017/08/14 South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announced that a solar thermal power station would be built 30 km north of Port Augusta, around 330 km north of the state capital, Adelaide.


Aurora update; 2018/05/10

RenewEconomy reported yesterday that Solar Reserve have applied for approval to add 70 MW of solar PV to the Aurora project.

While a solar thermal power station of the type proposed by Aurora heats the molten salt working fluid only with direct sunshine, the solar PV will generate power in the diffuse light of cloudy days as well, ensuring an energy feed every day, not just on the sunny days.

The state government has contracted USA company Solar Reserve to build and operate the $650m 150 MW power station with 1,100 MWh of energy storage. It is expected that construction will start in 2018, be completed by 2020 and that the plant will deliver 495 GWh of electricity annually; about 5 per cent of SA's needs.

It seems that the government's commitment is to buy most of the power that they need from the solar power station; there is expected to be excess that will be sold to other consumers. Government will pay a maximum of $78/MWh for the power it purchases.

More details...

Ketan Joshi wrote an excellent summary of the proposal and its background on LinkedIn.

Solar Reserve, who will build and operate the solar power station, have a net page on the project.

Sophie Vorrath wrote an interesting article in RenewEconomy. It seems that some political dealing by Senator Nick Xenophon was involved in making the project financially viable. (Nick has a mixed past in regard to renewable energy, having made many foolish and ill-informed statements about wind power.)

A personal involvement

Having taken part in the 325 km Walk for Solar from Port Augusta to Adelaide in 2012, aimed at producing exactly this outcome, I'm very pleased to see a positive result at last.

On the steps of Parliament House, Adelaide, at the end of the Walk for Solar in 2012.
There was a rally at the end of the walk.
The people with the blue shirts are some of those who did the walk.

I put together an album in Flickr shortly after the Walk for Solar.

Added 2018/09/28

RayGen; solar power with a difference

RayGen's system combines solar PV with solar thermal. It uses heliostats to concentrate sunlight onto a high-efficiency gallium arsenide solar panel on a tower. The solar panel is cooled using water, but instead of this being an added cost the hot water is made available for whatever industrial processes might require heat (at around 95°C).

Of course the heat can be easily and cheaply stored for later use.

RayGen's Head of Sales, Will Mosley, claims that the RayGen system can provide 1MW ac electricity together with 2MW thermal energy for 8¢/kWh and Aus$8/giga-Joule (GJ).

RayGen have a 250kW commercial demonstration project running in Newbridge, Victoria with a further 500kW expansion planned. Newbridge is about 30km west of Bendigo. There is also a 250kW commercial demonstration in Zhuozhou, China.

This seems to me to have great potential.


RayGen's Web site
One Stop Off The Grid's piece about RayGen
Search result for RayGen in RenewEconomy.

Added 2014/09/04

Royalla Solar Farm

Royalla Solar Farm
Image credit, ABC. Artist's impression
The 20 MW Royalla solar farm was opened on 2014/09/03. It is about 17km south of Canberra.

The ACT is the most progressive of the states and teritories of Australia in that it has a policy for 90% renewable energy by 2020. This solar farm is the first of several planned.

Updated 2016/06/11

Sundrop Farms

Sundrop Farms – the solar power installation
Sundrop Farms solar
Photo taken with my drone
I have mentioned the first stage of the Sundrop Farms development on another page. The proponents have a Net page and a Facebook page.

The highly innovative project uses seawater and a 40 MW solar thermal power station to grow tomatoes in greenhouses on arid saline land near Port Augusta. The only other economic use the land has is fairly low-value grazing land.

The area is attractive for this sort of development because of the:

  • abundant sunlight;
  • abundant (highly saline) water;
  • cheap land;
  • nearby potential workforce;
  • highway connection to markets and suppliers.

The proponents expect that the development will be fully operational some time in the second half of 2016. The solar power tower in the photo on the right started operating around 2016/06/10.

The whole Sundrop Farm development
Sundrop Farms
Photo taken with my drone

This section added 2018/12/28
Edited 2021/06/21

How is the ground beneath solar farms to be treated?

In late 2018 utility scale solar farms are being built in Australia at a great rate; however, so far as I can see, the question of what is to be done with the ground beneath the panels has not been settled – in fact I suspect that it has been given far less consideration than most other aspects of the solar farms.

During construction of Bungala Solar Farm near Port Augusta, SA, there were major dust problems because much of the natural vegetation had been cleared, exposing the soil in this very dry area to wind erosion. Surely it would have been better to leave the majority of the local arid-land vegetation in place rather than bulldozing everything?

The solution best suited at any solar farm will depend to a large extent on the local climate, in particular, the amount of rainfall. In hotter and drier areas the shading from the panels could be advantageous to plantings, by keeping soil temperatures down and allowing soil moisture to be better conserved.

Suggestions from Abakus Solar

One of the few relevant Net pages that I could find was Abakus Solar (As of 2021/06/21 the site was no longer available. Other sites are giving in Other pages relating to agrophotovoltaics, below.) It discussed several solutions:
  1. Sheep grazing;
  2. Low-growing grass;
  3. Decorative plants;
  4. Low-light crops;
  5. Mowing;
  6. Chemical controls;
  7. Physical barriers to vegetation.

My own impressions

I have had no direct experience with solar farms, but have had quite a bit to do with broad-acre plantings and weed control (far from always successfully).

It seems to me that in Australia in cases where native arid-land vegetation is present it would probably be best to leave it in place as far as possible. Even if the natural vegetation is badly damaged during construction it would be much easier getting it re-established from that state than from bare ground. Bare ground is always an attraction to weeds.

Beyond that, grazing sheep beneath and between the panels could often be the best option. No treatment is without its disadvantages, but sheep grazing would have to have fewer disadvantages than most other treatments. (Goats tend to be browsers while sheep tend more toward grazing. Goats would be far more inclined to chew electrical insulation than would sheep.)

If sheep grazing is to be used careful consideration must be given to the weed seeds that might come with the sheep; weed seeds can remain viable in a sheep's gut for several weeks and germinate when passed from the sheep. Weed seeds can also be carried in the sheep's wool.

The other solutions discussed in the Abakus Solar article all have disadvantages covered in that article. Keeping vegetation entirely out of the solar farm seems not to be a viable, or an environmentally attractive option; it would require heavy use of chemicals and would likely result in erosion and problematic amounts of water runoff following heavier rainfall events.

Other pages relating to agrophotovoltaics

Ecogeneration has an article titled "Solar farms, land use and the rise of solar sharing", that is interesting, informative and useful.

An article titled "Doubling up crops with solar farms could increase land-use efficiency by as much as 60%" written by Emma Bryce and published by Anthropocene Magazine 2017/12/01 is informative. It relates to research in Germany; the shade provided by solar panels could be much more advantageous to crops and grazing animals in Australia than in Germany, because of the former's higher temperatures, lower rainfalls and higher levels of insolation.

There is a lengthy document on the Landscape Management Plan for a solar farm at Parks in NSW, but while it deals at some length with screen plantings of trees it seems to say little or nothing about the treatment of the ground beneath and between the panels.

This section added 2012/04/10

Solar PV, water heating and wind energy

Annual installations of solar photovoltaics
Solar PV
Image credit: Climate Spectator
In an article in Climate Spectator Tristan Edis pointed out that the present Labor Government has a far better record in developing sustainable energy than the previous Howard Coalition Government. He produced the graphs on the right. I have discussed the political aspects of this on my page about the Liberal's war on renewable energy.

The top graph shows that installation of solar photovoltaics in Australia reached around 770 MW in 2011.

Of course the price of solar PV has been declining greatly over this time span and this is a very important factor, however, there has been little change in the price of solar water heaters and the third graph shows that the installation of these has also increased markedly under Labor.

Annual installation of wind power capacity
Wind power
Image credit: Climate Spectator
This graph indicates that installation of wind power in any one year has not been greater than about 510 MW, so the amount of solar (PV) installed in 2011 was greater than the amount of wind power installed in any year. This is the first time that this has happened.

It is worth noting that while the 'installed capacity' of solar installed in 2011 was greater than the installed capacity of wind in the same year, the amount of electricity generated from the wind turbines will be greater than that generated from the solar because the capacity factor of wind is about twice that of solar PV.

While assigning exactly when a wind farm should be considered finished is a difficult and somewhat arbitrary matter (they come on line gradually over a period of some months), these figures agree at least approximately with mine that were calculated independently.

Number of solar and heat-pump water heaters sold in Australia per year
Water heaters
Image credit: Climate Spectator
The last graph shows installations of heat pump and solar water heaters. (While heat pump water heaters do not necessarily use sustainable energy they were probably included in Tristan Edis's article because they are much more energy-efficient than electric water heaters.)

Cost of solar PV declining

Climate Spectator carried an article on declining prices of solar PV, 2012/05/17, (relating to a paper published on Bloomberg New Energy Finance). The report suggested that "fully installed system cost of $3.01/Watt for 2012 and $2.00/Watt for 2015" and that the cost of power generated by solar PV was now below residential grid-price parity in a number of countries including Australia.

I found the graph below in Quora, 2012/06/12
Solar price long-term outlook
Original source: Deutsche Bank
So, solar prices might reach parity with fossil fuels around 2015-2017

I got the graph from There was a suggestion that it was already out of date and that solar prices were actually lower than indicated. Prices declined greatly in 2011 due to an oversupply of panels. Once the oversupply situation resolves, prices might rise again?

Will solar outstrip wind?

Solar power to 2012 has been more expensive than utility-scale wind power. It seems that the price of solar power is continuing to decline, but present indications seem to be that wind power is not getting any cheaper. Solar could overtake wind power on costs in the next few years.

Citizen's Own Renewable Energy Network Australia

Margaret Hender is the prime mover of this great organisation. As Margaret says, it is
"people-powered and donation based. It will enable people all over Australia to get on with the job of building more renewable energy capacity instead of just waiting on government action."
Margaret is a wonderful person, devoted to getting action on climate change in Australia. So devoted, that even though she's no spring chicken (I don't think she'll mind me saying that; I'm even older) she did the 328km Walk for Solar Thermal Power from Port Augusta to Adelaide in September 2012.

3.7% of South Australia's electricity was generated by PV in 2012/13

The 2013 Australian Energy Market Operator's (AEMO) report titled South Australian Electricity Report stated that rooftop solar accounted for 3.7% of SA's electricity generation in the 2012/13 financial year. (Wind generated 27% of SA's power in 2012/13.) The report stated that during the period from 2008/09 to 2012/13 solar PV output rose from negligible levels to 497 GWh per year. It was expected that rapid growth would continue.

Related pages

On external sites

Large scale solar farm map of Australia; Renew Economy

The mining industry is starting to realise that renewable energy is not some sort of greeny conspiracy. An organisation called Energy and Mines is helping spread the word that there is big money to be saved by remote mines changing from diesel-powered generation to solar PV. They see Australia becoming the Global Centre for Renewables for Mines.

External pages relating to agrophotovoltaics

Related pages on this site

Australia's energy future

South Australia's energy future

South Australia's success in adopting renewable energy

Solar power in Australia: a historical snapshot