U.S. utility giant invests in 5B to accelerate use of solar energy


In a show of confidence in the company’s pre-fabricated, re-deployable solar technology, U.S. utility giant AES has made a strategic investment in Sydney-based 5B. The US $8.6 million (AU$12 million) investment round that has included AES will help the start-up, which has been tapped to build the world’s largest solar farm near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, scale up its operations.

5B’s solution is Maverick, a solar array in which modules come preassembled onto concrete blocks that replace conventional mounting structures. A single Maverick is a ground-mounted DC solar array block of 32 or 40 PV modules, which can be made with any standard framed 60 or 72-cell PV module. With modules oriented in a concertina shape at a 10-degree tilt and electrically configured, each Maverick weighs about three tonnes. When deployed, one block is five meters wide and 16 meters long (32 modules) or 20 meters long (40 modules).

Since they are pre-built, Maverics can be folded up, packed onto a truck for transport, unfolded, and connected to a home or business in less than a day. Such technology was particularly attractive to AES as it enables customers to add solar resources at a pace that is three times faster while providing up to two times more energy within the same footprint of traditional solar facilities. “These significant advantages will help us meet our customers growing needs in today’s everchanging environment,” said Andrés Gluski, President and CEO of AES.

With corporate clean energy on the rise, 5B’s design can enable companies to transition to solar more quickly and while using less land. According to the utility, the total global investment in the solar energy market between 2021-2025 is projected to reach $613 billion as companies transition to greener sources of energy. Last month alone, AES has released a massive request for proposals seeking to purchase up to 1 GW of energy, environmental attributes, ancillary services, and capacity from new renewable energy projects as part of a partnership with Google that began in November to help the company reach its clean energy goals.

Already a major player in the energy storage market through Fluence, its joint venture with Siemens, the U.S. utility aims to benefit from the use of 5B’s Maverick technology across many of the projects in its expected 2 to 3 GW of annual renewables growth. This year, AES Panama will fast-track the delivery of a 2 MW project utilizing the Maverick solution. In Chile, AES Gener will deploy 10 MW of 5B’s technology as a part of the expansion of its Los Andes solar facility in the Atacama Desert in the north of the country.

“Our Maverick solution is defining the next generation for solar power and the true potential of solar power in terms of how fast, simple, flexible and low cost it should and will be,” said Chris McGrath, 5B’s Co-founder and CEO. “5B has delivered the speed and efficiency benefits of our Maverick solution in the Australian market, and now AES is bringing its strength to bear as we scale our solution globally.”

Thus far, the company has had no project bigger than 2 MW in its portfolio, according to its website. However, the start-up has been named as the preferred solar partner on Sun Cable’s 10 GW solar farm that aims to export solar power harvested in the Australian desert to South-East Asia via a subsea cable. 5B has also supplied its Maverick solution to aid the bushfire relief initiative carried out through a venture, known as the Resilient Energy Collective and funded by Mike Cannon-Brookes.

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