It is not widely known that Australian ingenuity made clean solar energy companies viable. Though the solar cell was invented in the US in the 1940s, there was little progress until Martin Green came along. He was an engineering professor at the University of New South Wales who started tinkering with the solar cell.
In 1975, the Brisbane-born engineer started a PV solar research group. They began beating the Americans at their own game. “Pretty soon, we started beating all these groups in the US in terms of the voltage [out of a solar cell] we could get”, Martin Green said in an interview. “NASA had a project that had six contractors working on it. We beat them all.”
Successive governments have always promoted Australia as a coal, oil and gas loving nation. However, not only did Australians pioneer the development of solar power, but they are also world leaders in adopting it. As the New York Times noted in 2020, homeowner roof installations have made the country a powerhouse in renewable energy. Moreover, a staggering number of solar farms are currently operating or under construction across Australia.
Why are Australians installing solar panels on rooftops?
Since May 2021, more than one in four Australian homes run a solar energy system at home. In some provinces, over four in ten households have solar panels on their roof. The solar industry is expected to generate 25 times more electricity than the grid’s remaining coal generators by the year 2025.
Australia is now leading the world in the uptake of solar power. The country installed about seven gigawatts of renewable energy in 2020. This is roughly equivalent to the capacity of a large coal-fired plant being added each year. While that number is still relatively small, it is still a big Australian success story.
Solar saves money
For one, solar power can save a homeowner significant amounts of money over the years. The average Australian electricity bill ranges from AUD $1,132 per year in Victoria to AUD $1,884 per year in South Australia. A standard 6.6kW solar system costs around AUD $6,500 and can last up to 20 years. It can pay for itself several times over. Australia’s warm climate makes this more feasible than in most countries.
Moreover, solar power allows homeowners to be independent of the electricity grid and have their own supply in case of an outage. Climate change increases the likelihood of large natural disasters, thus destabilising the national power supply. Home installations have also decreased stress on the Australian electricity grid. Last summer in Australia, the stress on the grid actually decreased, even as demand – primarily for air conditioners – went up.
Better for our air
To avert climate change, Australia needs to play its part in achieving net-zero carbon emissions, in the way that other countries are. Installing solar panels also gives households the ability to use more clean electricity than they have generated. As more people adopt electric vehicles and electric heating pumps in the coming years, they will likely consume more electricity.
How many solar energy companies are there in Australia?
Over 400 solar energy companies operate across Australia. Many are local – operating only in their state or territory – while some operate across the nation. It can be intimidating to find the right company to install solar panels on your roof with so many available options. Several sites offer lists of the top or most highly-rated solar energy companies. But, there is an easier way to approach this: accreditation.
The Australian Clean Energy Council (CEC) is the accreditation body for the designer, installer and components part of the industry. Without using accredited suppliers and installers, you will not be eligible for federal or state rebates for solar installations. The CEC lists more than 7,000 accredited solar installers, and the categories of accreditation range from design-only to install-only to design and install. Off-grid systems need separate CEC accreditation. The industry directly funds the CEC to ensure at least a basic level of competency and professionalism.
Key solar power companies in Australia
Accreditation by the Australian Clean Energy Council is a must-have for a company selling and installing solar panels and battery storage. Here are some of the big players currently in the market.
Top solar panel manufacturers in Australia
LG Solar is undoubtedly one of the top solar panel manufacturers in the world. It is a subsidiary of LG Electronics, the South Korean company known for its high-quality electronics products. Their solar panels are consistently rated among the top.
SunPower is another top manufacturer, originally founded in the United States and is among the top-rated solar panel makers. However, its products may be on the pricey side for some.
Trina Solar is a well-known budget solar panel manufacturer from China with a long history in Australia. It is cheap and cheerful if that is what you are looking for.
Top five Australian solar power installers (national)
Here are the top-rated Australian solar power installers in 2021 with offices in most parts of the country.
- Infinity Solar (based in Queensland)
- Solargain (based in Western Australia)
- Energy Matters (based in Victoria)
- Nicholls Solar (based in New South Wales)
- Mark Group (based in New South Wales)
Australian solar power installations: The do’s and don’ts
Here is what we recommend:
- Look for solar energy companies with a local office and that have been operating for at least two to five years. That way, you can easily contact them if any problems arise.
- Insist on seeing accreditation for the company, the planner and installer. This will affect your rebates.
- Ensure that the solar company visits your home beforehand to discuss what you need and offers a customised installation plan.
- Do not opt for a company that pushes you to sign on the spot without going through all the necessary plans and checks.
- Do not go with a one-size-fits-all plan for solar installations. Every home is different.
- Avoid engaging with a salesperson who has aggressive pitches and makes untrue claims e.g. government rebates are about to end, or that you will make lots of money from solar.
- Do not go for an unusually cheap system – it will cost you more in the long term.
More tips and ideas on finding a good solar installer can be found here.
Future growth of solar energy in Australia
In 2020, over a quarter of Australia’s total electricity generation came from renewable sources for the first time. It is expected to reach nearly half of the country’s power capacity by 2030 alone. That is a huge shift in its energy mix. Tasmania produced more renewable energy than it consumed in 2020. Its government is now looking to become a major clean energy exporter. Many other states plan to generate all of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In fact, the country could eliminate 80 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by doubling the pace of solar and wind power installations.
Why solar power in Australia matters
Over the last few decades, even as the Australian government has eventually accepted the reality and impact of climate change, its focus has been on promoting fossil fuel industries. Coal still powers a large majority of the Australian electricity grid, even as countries, such as the United Kingdom, have moved away from coal due to its environmental impact. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, and its usage is heating up our planet and causing climate change. In turn, the impact of climate change will be felt more severely in Australia than in most parts of the world. Vast wildfires, droughts, powerful tornadoes, huge floods and damage to the Great Barrier Reef are just some examples of the impact of climate change in Australia.
In this context, the fact that ordinary Australians have embraced solar power with gusto is a testament to their forward-thinking. More recently, coal-fired power consumption and gas generation in Australia reached a record low supply due to the solar industry. In some places, like Victoria, wholesale prices fell from AUD $100 to AUD $27 a megawatt-hour. As solar prices have kept falling, the cost of running coal fired stations has become more expensive to run.
Australian engineers continue to lead the world in solar development. In 2020, a team of researchers announced world-beating results in developing cheaper and more efficient solar panels. This would not only mean cheaper electricity and cleaner air, but it would also make the country a world leader in tackling the climate crisis.