COVID-19 appears to have accelerated rooftop solar installations across Australia, thanks to the shift to working from home, the Clean Energy Regulator says.
Clean Energy Regulator chair David Parker told Senate estimates on Tuesday, contrary to reports that investment in renewable energy was falling in Australia, investment had actually remained stable over the past year.
“I think the evidence very strongly supports the view that industry is getting on and investing, basically because renewables are effectively commercial at this point,” Mr Parker said.
And while there was a slowdown in investment at the start of the pandemic, Clean Energy Regulator executive general manager Mark Williamson said rooftop solar installations had actually ramped up since coronavirus struck.
“After the first quarter of this calendar year, which was largely before COVID hit, things were up about 30 or cent year-on-year from last year,” Mr Williamson said.
“During the second quarter and COVID, it’s really jumped to over 40 per cent year-on-year. So COVID appears to have accelerated the uptake.”
Last year, around 2.2 gigawatts of rooftop solar panels were installed across Australia. This year, it is expected to hit 2.9 gigawatts, Mr Williamson said.
“I think if it wasn’t for the lockdown in Melbourne, the rooftop and small-scale scheme would have hit the 3 gigawatt mark,” Mr Williamson said.
Mr Williamson attributed the increase to the number of people working from home.
“Essentially the insight I can give there is payback periods are reasonably quite short in most capital cities, that crude average about four years,” he said.
“But if you’re working from home, you’ve got a lot more load at the time of generation during the day and so probably pulls the payback period into about three years, so that maybe explains why there’s probably been an uplift as a result of COVID.”
Mr Williamson also noted home improvements were generally up as a result of the pandemic as well.
As recently as August, the Clean Energy Council said investment in large-scale renewable energy projects was at its lowest levels since 2017.
It blamed unpredictable government policy interventions, problems connecting to the grid and network congestion.
Almost 2000 megawatts of rooftop solar was installed across the National Energy Market in 2019-20 – 25 per cent more than was installed during the previous year, and double the amount installed the year before that.