ARENA announces major research funding into end-of-life solar PV issues

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At the National Smart Energy Summit in Sydney yesterday, Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) CEO Audrey Zibelman made the exciting claim that by 2040, 25% of Australia’s electricity will come from rooftop solar PV. With this increasing rate of solar PV deployment, it is only logical that ARENA provides significant funding for research that may find a way to reduce the cost of sustainably managing panels at the end of their life. 

ARENA’s funding round is looking to improve the economics of recycling, specifically concerning upfront design, better managing the value of recovered materials, and innovative ways of reusing, repurposing, and recycling used panel components into new panels. ARENA believes the savings made on such facets would significantly lower the overall cost of both large-scale solar PV and rooftop PV generation by the simple task of responsibly managing waste. 

“Currently, solar PV panel recycling adds a cost to the supply chain,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller, “R&D can help find innovative solutions to reduce this cost, enabling sustainable and cost-effective management of solar panels at the end of their life.” 

Additionally, ARENA’s funding is also looking to top up Australia’s world-leading solar PV R&D sector with the ultimate aim of improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness across the board, or rather, across the panel. The research in question will delve into both advanced silicon and tandem silicon efficiency as well as research into new potential materials. 

“The funding round also aims to build on Australia’s excellence in solar PV R&D, to increase efficiencies and drive down costs even further and help bring about the next generation in solar technology,” said Miller. 

The payoffs and potential breakthroughs this funding could provide are wide-ranging. As Australia looks to embark on its National Hydrogen Strategy, improved solar performance could help the technology to underpin a whole new industry. Moreover, as the nation looks to decarbonise its major industrial sectors, the cheaper and more efficient the solar PV, the more lubricated the energy transition.  

“More efficient and lower cost solar PV can underpin the growth of a renewable hydrogen industry,” noted Miller, “can drive the electrification of transport and industrial processes, and can reduce the costs of delivering secure and reliable renewable electricity.” 

Since 2009 ARENA has provided more than $290 million in funding to approximately 300 solar research and development projects. The progress of the industry is testament to the astuteness of these investments and speaks to the necessity of ongoing support.