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In spite of cutbacks in various government programs that subsidized home solar installations, installations in Australia passed the half-million mark during 2011, according to the Clean Energy Council.

In a report released during the climate change talks at Durban, the council said its research found that there are now 35 times as many rooftop solar installations down under than there were in 2008. The council estimates that solar PV is now installed on around eight percent of Australian homes.

Solar, wind power and hydro-electricity now provide nearly 10 percent of Australia’s energy sector, the council found, with hydro getting a huge boost as the country’s long drought finally ended during 2010 and 2011.

While hydro-electricity is the biggest provider of renewable electricity in Australia, there is now more than 1,000 MW of solar power installed, delivering 680 GWh annually. Hydro delivers nearly 20,000 GWh annually, or 67 percent of renewable energy; wind power provides more than 6,400 GWh (21.9 percent); the bioenergy sector tips in 8.5 percent, or 2,500 GWh, and solar PV provides 2.3 percent of the sector.

Newer technologies, naturally, are only generating trivial amounts of power: solar thermal stations provide 4.4 GWh, marine (that is, wave power) provides .75 GWh, and geothermal provides half a GWh.

The rapid growth of the sector overall is making Clean Energy Council director Kate Thornton optimistic that Australia can meet its target of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

However, it wasn’t all good news for the clean energy sector. The report also notes that the number of new large-scale projects – and the amount of power coming on-line from large projects – fell in 2010-2011. During 2009, nearly a gigawatt of new large-scale projects were commissioned, compared to just 400 MW in the latest period. Much of the new capacity added in 2010-2011 resulted from just four projects: three wind farms and a hydro upgrade.

The council attributes this subdued activity to a combination of investment uncertainty and a sluggish economy. The report states that “investors watched the lively political debate over a carbon price apprehensively”, and expresses the hope that with the legislation now in place, “policy stability [will] act as a catalyst for a wave of major investment in clean energy power plants”. ®

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