SunDrive, AGL to collaborate on solar panel manufacturing in Australia


From pv magazine Australia

Australian energy major AGL and solar cell technology innovator and manufacturer SunDrive Solar have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the development of a commercial-scale PV manufacturing facility in the New South Wales (NSW) Hunter region.

The agreement follows Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s announcement of AUD 1 billion ($650 million) of subsidies, grants and other support to increase Australia’s role in the global solar manufacturing supply chain.

The Solar SunShot initiative is intended to provide support across the PV supply chain, including the scaling up of module manufacturing capabilities and exploration of other areas of the supply chain where grant funding can help kick-start the industry.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which will deliver the program, said this could include polysilicon, ingots and wafers, cells, module assembly, and other parts of the solar supply chain, including solar glass, advanced deployment technology, or other aspects identified through industry consultation.

SunDrive Chief Executive Officer Vince Allen welcomed the initiative, saying it is a significant day for the company, the Hunter Valley, and the country.

“It’s an inflection point for turning our R&D into commercialisation and manufacturing, so yes, it’s a very exciting moment,” he said. “Australia has led the world in solar innovation and today’s $1 billion Sunshot announcement means that Australia can not only be a renewable energy innovation powerhouse, but also a renewable energy manufacturing powerhouse.”

SunDrive, which has developed the world’s most efficient commercial-size solar cell and now plans to manufacture those cells, said the proposed manufacturing facility would be located at the renewable energy hub AGL has planned for the site of the former coal-fired Liddell power station that was shut down in April 2023.

AGL has previously announced plans to repurpose the existing infrastructure at the site near Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter to support the construction of new generation and storage infrastructure and already has approvals in place to build a 500 MW / 1,000 MWh battery at the location.

Allen said the first-generation solar panels manufactured at the Hunter Energy Hub would be more efficient that those currently used and within a decade, far more advanced.

“Today’s current commercial technology is at its limit in terms of cost, efficiency and material use, and the technology that we have is our first generation and we hope to have many more generations and plan to ride that frontier of solar technology wave,” he said. “Within 10 years, it’s very likely we’d be producing panels with over 30% efficiency which is a lot more efficient than today’s current generation of panels, because there’s going to be a whole suite of technology needed to get the world from where it is now to more than half of its energy coming from solar.”

The AGL and SunDrive feasibility study will identify key infrastructure and engineering requirements, as well as approvals and licences required for the development of the solar PV manufacturing facility.

If established, the facility is expected to be the first of its kind in Australia with AGL to explore an agreement to buy SunDrive panels for its customers.

AGL is a leading supplier of solar to both commercial and industrial with 600,000 customers, both residential and business, that use its solar services.

AGL Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Damien Nicks said the vision for the Hunter Energy Hub is to create a low-carbon integrated energy hub, designed with circular economy principles.

“It will bring together industries that can make a positive contribution to the energy transition, including renewable energy generation, grid-scale batteries, green advanced manufacturing, and associated industries,” he said.

Nicks said the agreement with Sundrive is the latest of many partnerships that will transform the Liddell and nearby Bayswater power station sites into a low-carbon integrated energy hub,

“We are looking for partnerships, for opportunities that transform our business, that decarbonise our portfolio and repurpose our sites into clean industrial hubs,” he said. “We believe that this partnership has a significant opportunity to develop real benefits for the energy transition and if successful will create jobs in this community and for the broader communities around us.”

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