Will solar power in Australia take its cue from overseas in 2014?

us flag on a solar panel

Solar installation growth in the US is picking up. In Australia it is slowing. Is Australia destined to always play catch up with our more powerful friends?

A US-centred news article that made your correspondent sit up and take notice this week in the SQHQ bunker came via the excellent RenewableEnergyWorld. The piece summarised a recent report from by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) in the US, that reported massive growth in solar energy in the country.

The study found 930 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaics (PV) installed in Q3 2013, which was an increase of 20 percent over Q2 2013 and a huge 35 percent over Q3 2012.

The report discussed the takeup of photovoltaics increasing to an extent that puts the US ahead of Germany in PV rankings for the first time. According to the article, the United States has now assumed world leadership in photovoltaics along with China, Japan and Germany.

So what has the growth of solar power in the US got to do with solar energy Australia? (I hear you ask). This is a fair question.

Historically our two countries share the same economic systems and democratic systems of governance. More importantly, as a middle-ranking nation with a (relatively) small economy, we tend to do what we’re told. It’s a clever survival mechanism. First the UK, the mother country, now the United States, with a dash of China (who own a large part of our balance sheet anyway). We have — and continue to — take our cues from them all.

Now I may be a little unkind here readers but it seems to me that, as a result, important theories and practices: such as those of our governance, the economy and energy policy,tend to lag behind those of the more powerful countries. Innovations such as a society powered by renewable energy over fossil fuels may therefore take time to filter through to our ladies and gentlemen of leisure (sorry politicians) in Canberra and the state capitals.

It’s the (lack of) vision thing, to paraphrase a wise former Australian PM.

However as we approach 2014 do you, as I do, sense that renewable energy is gradually now being spoken of as a viable alternative to fossil fuel energy in our capitals? We’ve long gone past solar power as a form of “boutique” energy, cost effective only for those with a bank balance the size of a shock jock’s ego.

The take up of domestic solar in Australia has been extraordinary with over 2 million ordinary Aussies taking advantage of the charge of solar panels down the cost curve, courtesy of the availability of cheap Chinese solar panels. What we have in domestic enthusiasm for solar power though, we lack in a supportive official solar energy policy.

To link neatly the two separate points made in this rant, the sense that we take our economic (and in this case energy) cues from our American cousins has your correspondent in an optimistic frame of mind. That the pro-renewables trend in the United States will soon filter through to the pollies in our sun-drenched land.

Will the massive growth in photovoltaics in the United States translate to a pro-solar policy with our chair polishers? A new dawn (ahem!) in solar energy Australia? Or is your correspondent talking out of his inverter yet again? We at SQHQ would like to get a discussion going on this topic as we head into 2014. Please comment below or start your own mini-rant over at our Facebook Page.


  1. You are pretty much on target, as usual, Finn. I think our state and federal “members of parliament” have been shocked by the fast take-up of solar by the Australian home and business owners. Notice how fast they pulled the subsidies when the take-up was seen to exceed the dollars allocated to the task by our dopey state and federal treasurers? The take-up of all technologies is said to be quicker in Australia than in most developed countries. The US will produce dramatic numbers of systems and their outputs, but you have to remember that they have 300 million more people than we do. The per capita result in the US is lagging behind Australia, or was until recently, The cat is now out of the bag for energy producers, networks and retailers. In the past, the state owned the systems and could regulate to prevent private competition. Not now. And why would they, anyway?

  2. Some excellent thoughts thanks Colin. Liked the point that “…the take-up of all technologies is said to be quicker in Australia than in most developed countries”. Food for thought.

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