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When every cent counts - building the case for solar PV manufacturing in Australia

UNSW Research Fellow Dr Nathan Chang leads ACAP's work discovering how and where Australia can play a role in manufacturing solar modules. His illuminating work formed the basis of ACAP and APVI's Silicon to Solar report that informed the Federal Government's $1billion Solar Sunshot solar manufacturing program.

This feature article is an extract from ACAP 10 years - Creating a Pipeline of Opportunities.

Dr Nathan Chang joined ACAP in 2015 to do his PhD after working for over a decade in the solar panel manufacturing industry.

Dr Chang reflects, “When I started in solar in 1998, solar panels were selling for over $10/W. When we took an Australian technology into manufacturing in 2005, our target was $3/W. By 2010, we were chasing $1/W and now solar is less than 20c/W.”

“The rate of change is phenomenal, driven by research and technology development, and by scale.”

Nathan used his industry experience in setting up manufacturing lines in his PhD research to develop new models and methods for assessing the cost of new technologies, and to project where future prices were going.

Nathan completed his PhD in 2018 and the skills he developed have since been sought after by research and industry, in Australia and internationally, as solar becomes increasingly competitive.

Based on Chang's work, and through seed project funding, ACAP has developed collaborations with SunCable on optimising technologies for large scale solar deployment, and with the Australian PV Institute (APVI) on the supply chain for solar manufacturing.

In both cases, the work was started with seed funding under ACAP and has grown to more substantial research programs, attracting new partners and independent funding.

Nathan now leads the ACAP’s Program of work on Manufacturing Issues, along with colleagues at CSIRO. This program is looking at manufacturing issues and opportunities; at sustainability for solar as deployments grow from hundreds of gigawatts to terawatts; and at end-of- life management for solar technologies, including redeployment and recycling.

“We are at an exciting stage of solar development where, through confident investment in large-scale manufacturingin China, we have been able to achieve an incredibly low cost of solar,” says Dr Chang.

“As a result, we have a viable solution for a net-zero emissions economy and there are commitments worldwide to deploying solar at large scale over the next decade. This creates a whole new industry opportunity.”

“In our work on supply chains, we are asking how and where Australia could play a role in manufacturing the solar modules needed in Australia, and around the world? We want to leverage Australia’s role in technology development and make the most of our vast solar resource.”

“By working closely with industry, government and investors, we are optimistic that we can bring elements of the solar manufacturing process back to Australia and make a significant contribution to the world’s needs for solar modules.”

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