ARENA awarded $41.5 million in funding for ultra low cost solar research

ARENA's solar research funding is designed to drive fully installed, in-the-field costs to 30 cents per watt. Image credit: ARENA

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced $41.5 million in funding to 13 research projects to promote commercialisation and research and development (R&D) efforts aimed at considerably lowering the cost of solar.

In a statement, ARENA said the funding for ultra low cost solar R&D builds on the organisation’s prior investment in solar PV. It supports initiatives that line with the ARENA’s ‘Solar 30 30 30’ target of 30 per cent module efficiency and 30 cents per installed watt at utility scale by 2030. To support this aggressive timetable, funding has been made available to focus on commercialisation prospects, following each project’s primary R&D phase, to assist in putting the new innovations into the market.

Researchers from three Australian universities have received funding: The University of New South Wales (UNSW), The Australian National University (ANU), and The University of Sydney (USYD).

ARENA initially opened for applications in February and upped the funds granted by $1.5 million due to the strength of the submissions that have the potential to reduce the levelised cost of solar PV and improve cell and module efficiency across two streams:

  • Stream 1 – Building on Australia’s outstanding record of R&D and innovation in solar cells and modules (funded with $27.5 million)
  • Stream 2 – Balance of System, operations, and maintenance: With funding of $14 million, efforts are being made to extend the approach and speed up innovation that can reduce the initial and continuing costs of utility-scale solar PV.

For ARENA to scale up the generation of affordable renewable hydrogen and open up decarbonisation routes for heavy industry, including low-emission materials like green steel and aluminium, ultra low-cost solar will be a critical input.

ARENA has championed ultra-low-cost solar and established the ambitious goal of ‘Solar 30 30 30’ to enhance solar cell efficiency to 30 per cent and reduce the entire cost of utility-scale solar farm construction to 30 cents per watt by 2030.

According to ARENA CEO Darren Miller, the funding will go to some of Australia’s finest institutions and solar PV experts, who have helped Australia become a world leader in solar innovation.

“Australia’s solar researchers have helped to make solar PV the cheapest form of energy in history, but to create a future in which Australian solar energy supplies the world with clean power, fuels and products, we need to be ambitious and drive the cost of solar even lower,” Miller said.

Miller stated that ARENA is providing $41.5 million in funding to these universities in order for them to support the ‘Solar 30 30 30’ aim of delivering ultra low cost solar, hence optimising Australia’s transition to renewable electricity and meeting the emissions reduction targets.

Prof Bram Hoex, Professor and Deputy Head of School (Research) at UNSW Sydney’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Engineering, said he was humbled by ARENA’s strong support for the broad range of projects proposed for this R&D round in close consultation with UNSW’s domestic and international industry and academic partners.

‘’ARENA’s ‘Solar 30 30 30’ target is perfectly aligned with our mission to accelerate the worldwide development and adaptation of renewable energy. This funding will allow us to continue to be in the driver’s seat of technology development and commercialisation with an increased focus on utility-scale solar, and so driving down emissions and growing the Australian economy at the same time,” Prof Hoex stated.

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, the John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience in the University of Sydney’s School of Physics and Sydney Nano Hub, said: “Thanks to the support of ARENA, we are thrilled to be able to work with SunDrive to accelerate the development of perovskite-silicon tandems for commercialisation.”

Since 2012, ARENA has given $118.5 million in grant financing to 145 solar PV projects with 17 institutions through its R&D initiatives. In addition, ARENA has provided $128.99 million in funding to the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) for an 18-year period until 2030.