Australia’s top solar research school snares $19m in new funding

The country's leading solar research centre has secured its first major grant in years with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency tipping in $19 million for equipment to help make clean energy even more competitive.

The Australian Centre for Advance Photovoltaics, based at the University of NSW, will use the funds to extend its world-leading research into new solar cell and fuel materials, boost cell efficiency, and develop new storage products.

Dr Renata Egan, chair of the UNSW’s solar research facility, says great advances in solar technology are still to come.Credit:Tony Moore

Renate Egan, a senior solar researcher at the centre, said about 85 per cent of the modules produced globally use a technology known as PERC, or Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell, developed at UNSW.

"It is true that solar is now the lowest cost form of new electricity generation and competes with the marginal cost of coal, but there is still more to do," Professor Egan said.

"We see significant opportunities to improve performance and aesthetics and to develop solar for applications beyond rooftops and utility scale. We see the module technology of today to be similar to the mobile phone technologies of the 1990s – it is functional and effective, but has a long way to go."

Solar energy costs continue to drop worldwide, with the latest large-scale auctions in India driving contracts below 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

The Herald understands the decision to inject more money into the UNSW-based solar research hub was made some time ago by ARENA and the Morrison government but they delayed announcing the funding.

"This investment by the Commonwealth government reflects a confidence in Australia's leadership in solar research and an intention to keep Australia at the forefront of technology development," Professor Egan said, adding it also dovetailed with the government's technology investment roadmap aimed at driving down greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Richard Corkish, a senior lecturer at UNSW’s world-renowned solar PV research school. The centre has been responsible for technology found in many solar cells around the world.Credit:Louie Douvis

Among the applications for the funds will be the development of new combinations of materials that can be used to generate energy more efficiently and to place the energy generation devices in more places than rooftop panels or solar farms.

"We are working on solar embedded on surfaces including electric vehicles and buildings, flexible solar technologies and cells that power remote-sensing devices," Professor Egan said.

Among the ACAP recipients are the Australian National University, Monash University, Melbourne University and CSIRO.

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