Solar power is continuing to surge ahead as the world’s emerging energy technology, according to a United Nations report that found global spending on solar was higher than any other energy source in 2017.

In a record-breaking year for renewable energy creation worldwide, the 98 gigawatts of new solar capacity was higher than all other technologies, including other renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels.

Australia’s own spending on solar skyrocketed with a significant boost in investment from South Australia, according to Iain MacGill from UNSW.

“We have the highest [per capita] rooftop residential solar market in the world, and by quite a big margin,” Dr MacGill said.

“A large proportion of Australia’s investment has gone into South Australia [and that means] we’re at the leading edge of working out how to integrate that renewable power into the electricity market.”

But Australia was starting from a low base, according to the ANU’s Energy Change Institute director Ken Baldwin, who said our transition to renewables still has some way to go.

“What will be interesting to see is whether this can be maintained,” Professor Baldwin said.

“There was 6 gigawatts of solar, both residential and commercial installed in [Australia] in 2017.

According to the UN report, the proportion of the world’s electricity being generated by wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-energy, geothermal, marine and small hydro, rose from 11 to 12.1 per cent in 2017.

That equals a potential reduction of around 1.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels – more than three times Australia’s entire carbon emissions for 2016.

The 157 gigawatts of new renewable power commissioned in 2017 was more than double the 70 gigawatts of net fossil fuel generating capacity added.

Integrating variable electricity sources into the grid and managing the energy market is now the key challenge for countries investing in renewables, according to report co-author and head of research at the Frankfurt School UNAP Centre, Ulf Moslener.

“The coming phase is mastering the structural change within the electricity sector,” Professor Moslener said.

“[Working out] how to apply business models to energy systems where the energy production costs are effectively zero.”

Value for money undermined by policy uncertainty

In total, Australia invested a record $8.5 billion in renewables in 2017 and got far greater value for money than just a few years earlier.

Australia’s renewable investment is being hampered by policy uncertainty. (Desert Knowledge Australia)

The price per watt of solar photovoltaics in Australia in 2017 was just $1.40, compared to $6.40 in 2010, according to the report.

Professor Baldwin said although the increased investment in renewables is encouraging, Australia’s ability to develop our renewable infrastructure is being stunted.