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For around an hour on Oct. 11, the state of South Australia had the entirety of its energy demand met by solar power — a world-first for a jurisdiction of its size. 

The landmark yet brief milestone occurred between midday and 1 p.m. Skies were cloud-free and temperatures peaked at an ideal 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit). Solar systems on the roofs of homes around the state were responsible for almost 80% of the output, with the remainder stemming from large-scale solar farms in the state’s southeast. 

Other sources of power generated during the hour were either kept in batteries for later use or sent to neighbouring Victoria.

CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Audrey Zibelman said the accomplishment was representative of the overhaul currently underway across Australia’s energy system. The feat, Zibelman added, can be expected to occur more and more and for longer periods of time.

"This is truly a phenomenon in the global energy landscape," Zibelman said in an AEMO press release. "Never before has a jurisdiction the size of South Australia been completely run by solar power, with consumers' rooftop solar systems contributing 77%."

Solar power — where energy from the sun is converted into electricity or used to heat substances like air or water — is incredibly popular in South Australia, with a third of all homes decked out with rooftop panels. 

Over 2,500 rooftop solar systems were installed in 2020 alone. 

According to Zibelman, energy sources like rooftop solar are expected to double or triple in capacity in the state by 2040.

“South Australia is experiencing a surge in rooftop solar installations,” she said. “AEMO is forecasting an additional 36,000 new rooftop solar systems in the next 14 months, which will mean that South Australia’s grid will see zero demand as rooftop solar alone will be capable of meeting 100% of demand.”

Solar energy isn’t just booming in South Australia.

An increase and investment in the renewable energy source, alongside other systems like wind energy, contributed to a 0.9% fall in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, according to Renew Economy. The last three months of last year saw a 40% increase in solar generation and a 17% cut in coal power.

However, experts say not enough is being done by Australia to cut emissions.

Australia’s Climate Council explained the nation’s emissions reduction rate is inadequate if the country is to reach its 2030 national emissions reduction target of 26-28% below 2005 levels. 

According to the Climate Council, the 2030 target itself is “woefully inadequate.”

"Australia lacks credible national climate policy to drive down greenhouse gas pollution,” the Climate Council states. “This is why we are not on track to meet even our woefully inadequate 26-28% emissions reduction target for 2030. To meet our current emissions target, Australia will need policies to reduce emissions by an extra 695-762 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution between 2021-2030.”

Australia was ranked 56th out of 57 countries in the global 2020 Climate Change Performance Index. 

The international report, conducted by the NewClimate Institute, the Climate Action Network and Germanwatch, examines a country's performance across four categories. The categories are: greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy use and climate policy. Across each category, Australia was ranked as the sixth worst.


Defend the Planet

South Australia Powered by Solar Energy for 1 Hour in World First

By Madeleine Keck