When Were Solar Panels First Used In Australia?

When Were Solar Panels First Used In Australia

SunWiz estimates that more than 3.4 million Australian homes now have rooftop solar systems, with the rate of solar installation now running at roughly 300,000 a year. But when did the solar revolution start? When were solar panels first used in Australia?

The direct answer is that Australian scientists pioneered the world’s first working solar cell and hot water systems in the 1950s. Then, in 1978, Telecoms Australia used solar panels to enhance the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.

That being said, there are numerous other milestones that are also just as important and interesting. So, this article is going to dive into the history of solar panels in Australia— from when it was first discovered, to how Australia led solar research, to the first large-scale installations, and all the way to the current state of solar technology in AU.

It all started with Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839.

French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect
An image showing French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel unveiled the discovery of the photovoltaic effect.

French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839, laying the foundation for further research in solar technology. This discovery enabled the development of solar panels, a crucial source of renewable energy worldwide.

Progress was made in 1873 with Selenium and Willoughby Smith.

The discovery of selenium and its photoconductive properties in the late 19th century played a significant role in the advancement of solar panel technology. It demonstrated the potential of converting light energy into electricity and paved the way for further research in solar cells.

While selenium is not commonly used in modern modules, its early research was crucial in the development of solar panels as a viable source of renewable energy.

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Progress halted in 1883 with Charles Fritts and the first solar cell.

The discovery of solar cells in the mid-20th century was slowed by abundant fossil fuel supply, low efficiency of solar products, and high costs to install solar panels.

Renewed interest in solar energy emerged later due to environmental and energy concerns, leading to advancements in solar technology and increased adoption of solar panels as a sustainable energy generation source.

In the 1950s, Australia’s CSIRO picked up where the world left off.

Australia has been a world leader in research about solar technology since CSIRO picked up the studies back in the 1950s. This resulted in the invention of the world’s first solar-powered water heaters.

Further advancements in solar technology were made in 1973.

During the 1970s oil crisis, Australia, along with other Western countries, experienced soaring energy prices, leading to the increased popularity of solar water heaters as a way to conserve energy.

This crisis was a wake-up call for Australians to minimize reliance on other nations and pursue energy independence. This spurred advancements in solar technology, setting the stage for the next milestone in 1978.

Solar panels bolstered the telecommunications sector in 1978.

Solar panels were first integrated into Australia’s telecommunications sector in 1978 when Telecom Australia adopted spacecraft solar PV panels for remote communications.

Telecom towers need an uninterrupted power supply and the ability to operate alone. Hence why solar energy became the key to powering these critical infrastructures without relying on the energy generated by the national grid.

The year after, 1979, Australia was out to show the world the powers of solar energy.

In 1979, Australia made history by building the world’s first solar power plant in the remote town of White Cliffs in New South Wales. The plant aimed to showcase that even an isolated town like White Cliffs could be powered by solar energy, pioneering sustainable energy solutions.

Although the power plant ended its operations in 2005, it continues to be a testament to Australia’s significant contributions to the solar industry, highlighting the country’s commitment to renewable energy innovation.

The University of New South Wales broke a record in 1989.

In 1989, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) achieved a record-breaking solar panel efficiency of 20%. This achievement was so remarkable that it remains impressive even today.

This breakthrough spurred further advancements in the solar power industry in Australia, including AGL’s creation of a solar power station in Wilpena in 1998.

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2005 and Australia still keeps setting records.

AGL’s solar power station helped propel Australia to becoming the world’s 4th largest contributor of solar energy.

Oh, and it doesn’t stop there. The country surpassed 4 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2014. And, in 2020, Oz exceeded 2.66 million solar installations.

The recent state of solar power in AU

Solar Panels from solar conference 2023
A picture showcasing solar panels exhibited at the Smart Energy Expo 2023 in Sydney.

As of today, Australia remains a leader in solar energy alongside the likes of China, Japan, Germany, and the US.

Solar panel prices in Australia have also seen a significant decrease in recent years, coming in at around $1000 for a 1 kW system – about 3x cheaper than in the US. This cost reduction in solar installations is largely thanks to government rebates that incentivize Aussies to switch to renewable energy.

The durability and efficiency of solar panels have also improved over recent years, due to a combination of technological advancements and the growing expertise of Aussie solar installers.


Australia has played a significant role in the advancement of solar power technology, from the world’s first solar power heaters in the 1950s to the country’s first solar telecom towers in 1978, all the way to the current state of the solar industry.

As Australia continues to embrace renewable energy sources, solar power remains a key pillar of its energy strategy. So, if you’re interested in exploring solar options for your home or business, we have a network of pre-vetted installers that are ready to help. We can get you 3 FREE quotes from them right away.