How US can learn from AU with much LOWER solar costs


According to recent US book publication “Electrify, an optimists playbook for our clean energy future,” - author Saul Griffith states that AU cost per watt installed is about $1.70 AUD / $1.20 USD. I live in Minneapolis, MN, and I receive residential quotes for about $4.53/AUD / $3.25/Watt USD. (BTW it’s a must read NOW for anybody in the US wanting to help decarbonize.)

I just wanted to confirm these numbers are roughly accurate? Does the $1.70 AUnumber include inverter, installation and permitting? If not, then what is the industry average; the “all in” industry average cost/watt installed?

Assuming the numbers are fairly correct, then I conclude the US then can and must quickly learn from AU with regards to PV codes and regulations to reduce our high PV install costs. Of course, time is of the essence. It appears AU is doing a lot of things right and simplifying the install process for building owners.

Second, the “Electrify” book states that AU PV installers earn about $55 AUD/hour. Is that about right? I can tell you that here installers I’ve spoken to here told me they earn about half that amount per hour…which is part of our problem here in the US.

Thirdly, will AU regulations allow higher wattage panels, above 400/watts, to be installed? I read your nice pice on “Most Powerful Solar panels of 2022.

If we are to take meaningful steps towards decarbonization with rooftop solar, it seems obvious to me we need to be able to install highest wattage panels on the market; like 600 watts and higher. Local residential installers here in Minnesota tell me they can’t install panels above 400 watts; that anything above is “commercial”. Is this also the case in AU?

In my urban market, we have a lot of #1 shade (due to Minneapolis boulevard tree policy…which is a good thing…keeps homes cool) and #2 limited roof area - because most homes are 100 years old and have small roofs/garages with dormers. Obvious conclusion: WE NEED HIGH WATTAGE PANELS.

Some observations are that at least in Minnesota, there appears to be no cohesive code regulation protocol and inspector education around PV installation. It’s common for municipal inspectors will show up to a residential job site and have little to no understanding of what they see. That’s been my experience anyway.

What policies, municipality education/training programs do you see in AU that you like; that you think have really helped accelerate the proliferation of rooftop solar? Are there local colleges with good installation training programs? How is the workforce trained? There is some PV installation training here that I have found, but very limited.

Thank you-


Taxes, Tariffs and Bureaucratic Trouble

PV is expensive in the US because they want it to be.

You still don’t have 50 state Solar Access laws that cover acceptable Residential and Commercial.

@VirtualCH Hi Chris, thanks for the insightful post.

In Australia, we have the Clean Energy Council which regulates the entire industry (National body) and provides training and accreditation to solar installers/electricians. We also have the Smart Energy Council which promotes solar and education, plus a number of national governing bodies such as the AER which helps with compliance and energy retailers. In Australia, there are many training centres (technical education centres called TAFE) and strong industry collaboration. Of course, there are some politics around solar and subsides (about 25% of the cost of solar is subsidised under the Renewable Energy Target) but with with almost 3 million homes (1 in 4 homes) now having solar, there is a clear demand and the ROI is very good at less than 4 years. Also, our warmer climate is generally well suited to solar in most populated area’s, even in winter.

In regards to solar panel power ratings, In Australia, we can install any size solar panel on a residential rooftop and the average size is now around 400W. We can install the larger 500W+ panels but they are very difficult to handle (heavy) and do not always suit the roof structure (batten spacing). It is usually more economical to install the smaller format residential panels - remember efficiency is the true measure of performance, watts per panel isn’t the primary factor.
In regards to price, we have no import tariffs like the US and can purchase panels at less than US$0.45 per watt (wholesale price) with very little restrictions on brands made in China. US installers tend to offer higher cost panels from local (North American) manufacturers and the top Korean and Japanese brands. That being said, several Chinese manufacturers are now some of the world leaders in research and development and have massive capabilities, they are the primary reason for low-cost solar panels, plus they are also now very good quality.

One of the big differences I have noticed between Australia and the US is the extremely strict safety regulations and rapid shutdown requirements which require every solar panel to be fitted with a device to enable shutdown at the panel level, rather than at the inverter or string level. This of course adds to the parts and labour cost during installation.

Yep, even less actually. Including the federal STC rebates people can expect a fully installed mid range system for $1AUD a Watt, or $1.70 will get you a premium setup.

Our AU calculator estimates a mid range 6kW system will cost $5 - $6.8k AU out of pocket.

I have long been scratching my head as to why it’s so much more expensive there. Seems there are many factors as Svarky says. But one additional one seems to be acquisition costs. Companies in the US seem to be paying huge sums to acquire customers (probably because it’s a hard sell, unlike here), and those costs are also getting passed on.