Dramatic cost reductions drive Aussie solar spree

The country’s renewables agency was able to select 480MW worth of projects during its latest tender process, twice the capacity it was originally aiming for.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has awarded grants to 12 solar projects, helping to catalyse A$1 billion ($769 million; €684 million) of investment in the sector.

Six plants in Queensland, five in New South Wales and one in Western Australia are due to receive funding, ARENA said. The projects, which have a combined capacity of 482MW, are expected to triple Australia’s large-scale solar capacity from 240MW to 720MW.

The largest of the selected projects is the 110MW Darling Downs Solar Farm, which will be developed by Origin Energy. The smallest is a 15MW solar farm in Longreach, Queensland, to be delivered by the Australian unit of Canadian Solar. Other chosen developers include Neoen Australia, Genex Power, RATCH Australian Corporation, Goldwind Australia and gas pipeline company APA Group.

The average funding needed for the projects came at just 19c per watt, below the 28c per watt ARENA mentioned in June and the $1.60 per watt required to build Australia’s first big solar projects. Project costs have fallen 40 percent since the agency’s auction process started.

ARENA is providing funding totalling A$91.7 million to the 12 projects, which have a combined cost of A$1,056 million. These will contribute one-tenth of the new capacity required to meet Australia’s 2020 renewable energy target.

The companies are expected to deliver the projects by the end of next year. “This is an aggressive timetable to lock in financing, offtake arrangements, connection agreements and required approvals,” said ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht.

Several projects are seeking debt financing through state-run renewables financier Clean Energy Finance Corporation, he added.

Frischknecht said that ARENA’s multi-year plan to bolster Australian supply chains and fine-tune production processes had allowed its grants to support many more projects. “The ARENA funding ask for big solar projects has dropped significantly from half of total projects costs to just 10 percent on average,” he said. “This means that every dollar of ARENA funding is leveraging A$10 from other sources in this round.”