In many respects, reviewing 2020 is like trying to recount a bad dream from which one has awoken with a cold sweat that may or may not be a symptom of Covid-19. Thankfully, reviewing the year from the vantage point of pv magazine Australia is not such a horror show. Of course, the Federal Government’s outdated obstinacy has been a cause of frustration, but as 2020 has shown, things could be worse than they are in Australia. Despite the Morrison Government’s continuing demonstration of Neville Chamberlain levels of foresight, the states, local government, and most of all, the solar PV and renewables technology industries themselves, have shown that resilience in the face of obstacles is a product of future potential and present application.
So, here it goes, a review of a year that will haunt the history books like 1918, 1770, or 536. But this is not a post-mortem, and so it is no time to be pessimistic. If there’s one thing we can say as 2020 comes to an end, it’s that at least we’re going in the right direction. The fact of the matter is, despite being locked down for much of the year, we’ve still managed to get an awful lot done. So, let’s take a look at the year that was through some of our biggest topics. Read at leisure or scroll down to find your pleasure.
The listed topics in order are: Solar Installations, Energy Storage, Renewable Energy Zones, Infrastructure, Green Finance, Green Hydrogen, Innovation.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought the global economy to a thudding halt but the sun also rises, and despite 2020 doing its worst, solar PV continued to shine. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) ‘Trends in Photovoltaic Applications 2020’ report, Australia ranks No.1 in the world for installed PV per capita with 644 watts per person.
The sheer number of large-scale solar farms that have been completed, begun generating, or reached a financial close in the last year is, as an arts major, a number higher than I can count to.Unable to list them all, here are some highlights.
2020 was off to a blazing start in more ways than one. In January, Risen Energy’s 100 MW Yarranlea Solar Farm in QLD’s Darling Downs connected to the grid, and in April the Chinese PV module maker’s 132 MW Merredin Solar Farm in WA began the generation commissioning process.
In July, AEMO granted registration to the RWE Renewables-owned 220 MW Limondale Solar Farm near Balranald in southwest NSW. July also saw the University of Queensland’s 64 MW Warwick Solar Farm see completion, a system now offsetting 100% of the university’s electricity use, the first such institution to achieve the feat in the world.
August was a massive month, with FRV’s 69.75 MW Goonumbla Solar Farm going operational along with the 120 MW Bomen Solar Farm outside Wagga Wagga. The 275 MWac/333Wdc Darlington Point Solar Farm achieved registration in southwest NSW, making it the largest solar farm connected to the grid. And in December, we saw the energisation of the 39 MW Molong Solar Farm in Central-West NSW.
Despite all these large-scale successes, the Federal Government’s policy vacuum, along with ongoing congestion issues, hindered many large-scale projects throughout the year. Thankfully, with the states taking the lead, infrastructure upgrades fast tracked, and green finance beginning to take mainstream portfolio space, the next few years look very promising.
Small scale and C&I
Australia saw a surge of small-scale utility solar in 2020 thanks to the path of least resistance found by systems around the 5 MW range. At that capacity, the systems can fly under the radar of much of the network’s congestion woes. The Mannum Solar Farm in SA’s Mid-Murray region, completed in February, is just one example.
Renmark-based Yates Electrical Service has already developed 80 MW of small-scale solar farms in the last five years, and this year they teamed up with Sustainable Energy Infrastructure to develop another 20 MW by the middle of 2021. And if projects like that aren’t evidence enough of the small/medium-scale surge, in December the sector found its first dedicated investment vehicle – Solarion Renewable Fund – which aims to fill the gap in medium-scale solar in Australia with a target portfolio of over 200 MW in the next few years.
Of course, C&I installations have been going through the roof in 2020, or rather, on the roof. Businesses across the country have been turning to solar PV in great numbers to help them save money on their electricity bills and clean up their emissions profile. Epho Commercial Solar managed to install 100 solar system atop Aldi supermarket sites in 100 days. Solgen Group installed some innovative systems at both La Trobe and New England Universities.
SA Water set out to make a big splash in 2020 with its plans for $300 million worth of solar installation, plans which the utility decided to double-down on when the pandemic hit. Speaking of the pandemic, because we haven’t heard enough about it this year, it certainly decimated the aviation industry, but perhaps Melbourne Airport experienced some relief with the installation of a 12.4 MW solar farm, one of the country’s largest behind-the-meter arrays.
Australia’s largest free-range chicken farm switched on one of the biggest solar plus energy storage system’s of any commercial farm in the country in November. With 1.4 MW of rooftop solar combining with 2.28 MWh of energy storage via 5 Tesla lithium-ion batteries, the farm is excited to save enormous amounts on its energy bill and its emissions. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
And medium scale modular solar has also surged this year, particularly in the mining sector, such as Aggreko’s 7.7 MWp microgrid at Granny Smith gold mine in WA.
Australia’s residential solar penetration is the envy of the world, and in 2020 we only extended our lead. Subsidises are still helping in many states, including VIC where the government decided to scale up its solar and battery schemes in November after a very successful year despite the interruption of the pandemic.
According to a November report from the Clean Energy Regulator (CER), small scale rooftop solar PV is expected to set a new record by the end of the year, reaching 2.9 GW, up 34% from the previous record set in 2019 of 2.2 GW. The same report suggested that the resilience of solar’s exponential uptake means rooftop solar capacity may double over the next four years.
In September, pv magazine’s Jonathan Gifford wrote, “in most Aussie homes using the electrons generated on the rooftop in the home – via a battery, simply doesn’t pay”. As 2020 comes to an end, a year which will probably occupy an entire semester in future high-school history classes, I wish I could say that Jonathan’s account is no longer the case. Unfortunately, despite the continuous fall in battery prices, the price-point for massive uptake has not yet been found.
IHS Markit puts cumulative installations at approximately 82,000 units in 2020, a rather slow year considering the penetration of residential solar. Sunwiz puts the cumulative figure even lower, at 73,000. Nevertheless, these figures still have Australia poking its head in and around the top of the global leader board.
However, until payback periods can be reduced there is little hope for the long-expected rapid uptake. Many payback periods still exceed 10-years, at which point the battery would need replacing anyway. Of course, there are reasons to hope that change will come sooner rather than later. For instance, the rising prominence of VPPs opening additional revenue streams for battery owners. Not to mention the many Australians facing the threat of outages from bushfires, or fallen lines, who are taking up batteries alongside their solar to form their own protected energy islands.
On the positive side, policy is certainly shifting toward battery uptake. VIC has expanded its Solar Homes program to enable consumers to apply for a Solar Homes battery. The Andrews Government is providing 17,500 household battery rebates over the next three years.
NSW, SA, QLD, the NT and the ACT (which has recently committed to a 250 MW storage network) also have active subsidy programs for residential or business storage. These subsidies, which may still not bring financial paybacks below 10-years in all cases, have built confidence in residential batteries among both installers and homeowners, says John Grimes, CEO of the Smart Energy Council.
“People have that longitudinal experience with the technology, which is now 2-3 years in some places,” says Grimes. “The installer base is getting confident. And then prices are coming down, changing the economics, putting it into the ‘worth having a look at’ category.”
Another big influence on battery prices in the next few years will be the burgeoning native manufacturing sector. By the latter half of 2021, Australia will be producing its own lithium-ion batteries outside of Newcastle in a new $28 million Energy Renaissance lithium-ion Gigafactory. Dubbed Renaissance One, the facility will ramp up production to 5.3 GWh per annum of safe, affordable, hot-climate-optimised batteries for Australia and South East Asian markets.
What is more, there is a growing demonstration of support for localised medium-scale storage solutions. WA’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap has seen state-owned Western Power deliver 12 community batteries in the last 18 months, and now the operator is seeking registrations of interest from industry and retailers in providing an extra 50 MW of non-network battery energy storage solutions between 2021-23.
According to pv magazine’s Natalie Filatoff: “Western Australia is delivering on its DER Roadmap like clockwork, and the rollout of storage has been calculated to support the grid at a strategic moment to extract optimal value from the existing network; as well as facilitate further residential and business investment in solar generation.”
However, WA is not alone in recognising the value of DER, especially at strategic locations in the grid. In the early and now seemingly very distant months of 2020, AusNet requested expressions of interest (EOIs) for a non-network solution in the West Gippsland Region of VIC. The call was answered by Spanish battery firm E-22, which is now in the process of installing a 5 MW/ 7.5 MWh lithium ion battery in Longwarry.
Recent analysis from Cornwall Insight Australia (CIA) has put Australia’s current battery energy storage pipeline at 7 GW. Of course, the vast majority of that projection is still firmly in the proposal phase, but the over 900 MW of energy storage thought to be developed by 2024 is still far in excess of AEMO’s ISP 2020 forecast.
Thanks to Australia’s world-leading solar penetration and arcane grid, our great southern land is a hotbed for energy storage innovation and investment.
Of course, South Australia’s (SA) Tesla Big Battery, Neoen’s Hornsdale Power Reserve, has been so wildly successful for both SA and Neoen that the French renewables giant expanded the project by 50% this year.
Neoen’s storage revenue jumped from €8.4m in the first half of 2019 to €24.6m (AU$40m) in the first half 2020 due to “an exceptional non-recurring event in Australia…the key factor behind this very hefty increase.” The exceptional non-recurring event was in fact a tornado in late January which pulled down the Heywood interconnector between SA and Victoria (VIC). SA was effectively isolated from the rest of the NEM for 18 days.
The battery’s success has encouraged Neoen to propose more large-scale energy storage projects, including the massive Goyder South Project – 1200 MW of wind, 600 MW of solar, and 900 MW of battery storage.
The success of the Hornsdale Power Reserve has not been overlooked by other states. The ACT Government has promised a 250 MW of batteries. Meanwhile, NSW and VIC have expanded their pubescent rivalry to the energy storage zone with both of Australia’s most populous states pursuing multiple big battery projects, including the Wallgrove Grid Battery project in NSW, and Victoria’s 300 MW / 450 MWh Victoria Big Battery to be constructed on the outskirts of Geelong.
The Northern Territory (NT) is also getting in on the act, with a 30 MW battery proposed for the Darwin-Katherine grid, which is not to mention the possibility of a 100 MW battery project as part of the 10 GW SunCable project.
Australian energy giant AGL is also joined in with its 850 MW large-scale battery storage goal by FY 2024. 500 MW of which AGL plans to build next to its soon-to-be-retired Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW. Along with a 250 MW battery project at SA’s Torrens Island Power Station, and a 200 MW battery at VIC’s Loy Yang coal-fired power station, the latter of which was not taken into account by CIA.
Considering all of these projects have been quite seriously committed to in public, it might be that CIA’s projects are on the conservative side. Especially since Origin Energy CEO Frank Calabria unveiled plans in late November to build up to five big batteries amounting to more than 800 MW of battery storage, including at the site of the company’s largest coal generator in SA. Nevertheless, CIA’s figures show that the average capacity proposed battery project is around the 150 MW mark, the size of the expanded Tesla Big Battery.
To the dismay of NSW, VIC has the largest MW of proposed projects with more than 4 GW, which amounts to over 40% of recent peak demand. NSW currently only has 1.3 GW in the pipeline but it’s recently approved Roadmap will no doubt attract the big battery builders in to feed of the three in development Renewable Energy Zones (REZs).
Although, both NSW and VIC could be made to look pretty silly if Tasmania (TAS) achieves its goal of becoming the Battery of the Nation (BOTN). The BOTN project works from the premise that Australia’s mainland is energy rich but storage poor, while the island of Tasmania has ample storage capacity but lacks energy. The Morrison Government recently pledged a further $93.9 million to the Marinus Link project which will see a 1,500 MW undersea electricity cable connect the pumped hydro rich northwest Tasmania to the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. The funds are in addition to the $56 million pledged towards the project last year, taking the Morrison government’s investment to $150 million in the $3.5 billion project.
Speaking of pumped hydro, the Genex Power’s Kidston Clean Energy Hub, which centres on two massive abandoned gold-mining pits in Far North Queensland, hit pay dirt in 2020 after years of stopping and starting. The agreement will see EnergyAustralia operate the envisaged 250 MW pumped storage asset for up to 30 years, a period in which it will prove critical to system stability in this renewables-rich area of QLD.
Of course, it isn’t just lithium-ion and pumped hydro that are going to get us through the long nights, among other energy storage options, Vanadium is really starting to flow. Only this month it was announced that SA will host the nation’s first utility-scale vanadium flow battery, demonstrating the hardy technology’s potential to provide energy and frequency control ancillary services (FCAS) to the NEM.
Clearly, as the energy transition accelerates, forecasts and the resulting plans will have to think on their feet and be unprecedentedly flexible in scope. Considering gas was thought to be essential as a transition fuel in 2018 but by 2020 has been deemed unnecessary, it is very difficult to know what the energy market will look like in 2022 let alone 2024. However, what we can say is that big batteries will be leading the charge.
Commitment to Renewable Energy Zones
The most significant news in the renewable energy industry this year has doubtlessly been NSW leading the way for the states toward the development of renewable energy zones (REZs).
When NSW announced its plan to realise the vision of AEMO and construct 12 GW of new large-scale solar and wind generation in five key regional areas called REZs, the rest of the nation turned to look. NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean had somehow managed what was thought be impossible in Australia’s toxic political environment, he united Liberals, Nationals, Labor, Greens and most of the crossbench to a massive clean energy package expected to attract $32 billion in investment.
Perhaps then it is no surprise that Kean has a framed ‘Bobby Kennedy 1968’ poster on the wall for one of Bobby favourite phases (borrowed from George Bernard Shaw) was: “Some see things as they are and say ‘why?’ Others dream things that never were and say ‘why not?’”
Kean said ‘why not?’ and the private sector has already spectacularly responded. Moreover, other states have responded too. QLD followed NSW’s lead with the Palaszczuk Government committing $145 million to the establishment of REZs in the state’s north, central and southern regions. The QLD Government’s expectations for their REZs were quickly shattered when they attracted more than $90 billion in project proposals. Similarly, VIC’s Andrews Government allocated $540 million for the development of six REZs as part of its $1.6 billion investment in renewables in its 2020/21 budget.
Of course, the key to REZs, as has always been the key to renewable integration in Australia, is the upgrading of the country’s aged infrastructure. 2020 itself has not seen major progress on the grid congestion front, so much so that April saw the CEFC release an Issues Paper on the halting state of Australia’s infrastructural development. However, some major projects in the pipeline have finally started to get a move on.
Perhaps the most notable is the SA-NSW Interconnector, a 900km, 330kV PEC set to connect the SA and NSW power grids for the first time, linking Robertstown (SA) and Wagga Wagga (NSW) via Red Cliffs (VIC). The project is integral to the AEMO’s Integrated System Plan (ISP) and indeed integral therefore to the future of Australia’s energy system which needs extensive transmission expansion to properly integrate renewable energies. Both states accelerated the project this year and a joint venture between Clough and Elecnor called Secure Energy was selected as EPC for the $1.5 billion project.
Another major project is the VIC-NSW Interconnector, VNI West, upon which work is finally starting now that a bilateral agreement between VIC and the federal government in which each will provide up to $100 million has been finalised.
Perhaps the other major infrastructural project on everyone’s mind is Tassie’s BOTN project mentioned earlier.
Globally, the realisation seems to have finally hit home that making the world green is a good way to make green money. Perhaps kindled in the early part of 2020 when the world’s eyes tuned in to watch Australia burn, the real driving fire behind the acceleration of green finance was probably the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Markets are beginning to realise that the apparently disparate chaotic events exacerbated by climate change are actually a singular and sustained chaos, and as the pandemic has proved, chaos is not good for business. As the BlackRock chairman Larry Fink wrote in a letter to shareholders on the 29th of March: “The pandemic we’re experiencing now highlights the fragility of the globalised world and the value of sustainable portfolios.”
Seven months after Fink wrote that letter, BlackRock, which manages $7.3 trillion worth of assets globally and is one of AGL’s largest shareholders, broke ranks at AGL’s annual shareholder meeting to side with the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility’s (ACCR) resolution to accelerate the closures of its Bayswater and Loy Yang A coal fired power stations.
ACCR Director of Climate and Environment, Dan Gocher, said “BlackRock’s support for this resolution embarrasses Australian super funds and asset managers who voted against the resolution. It demonstrates an increasing trend that European and US investors are more prepared to take critical action to address climate risk.”
In hindsight (for whatever hindsight is worth in 2020), BlackRock’s decision to respond to criticism of its climate policy and take action looks like a line in the sand. Of course, the sleeping giant of AGL had already shown signs of waking in August when it announced an ambitious 850 MW target for new large-scale battery storage by 2024, 200 MW of which is to be built at Loy Yang. This is a big turn around from the tepid stance to the emissions and the energy transition AGL took in July. But it is the world of finance that really seems to have taken the hint and followed suit.
Aware Super was one big investor which Gocher called out at the AGL shareholder meeting for previously stating that climate change posed a significant risk to its investment portfolio over the long term and then voting against the resolution, claiming it was “not commercial” to close coal-fired power stations by the mid-2030s. This December, along with the CEFC, Aware Super committed $80 million to Adamantem Capital, a private-equity fund requiring its target companies to meet strict emissions reduction targets.
In November, Australia’s largest super fund, AustralianSuper, followed its dumping of shares in Whitehaven Coal with a commitment to a net zero carbon emissions investment portfolio by 2050. AustralianSuper follows fellow superannuation funds such as Hesta in setting 2050 divestment goals.
Australia’s big banks are also getting in on the act. After Commonwealth Bank and Westpac made climate change investment commitments, ANZ Bank followed suit, announcing a new policy to divest from coal and actively support the transition to a zero emissions economy by 2050.
ANZ group executive Mark Whelan addressed the banks’ investors via its blog Bluenotes by saying that “As a bank, ANZ understands the impact – positive and negative – our financing has on climate change. We are in a unique position, through our lending decisions, to support customers and projects that reduce emissions as well as support economic growth.”
Of course, only in 2020 could a still rather tame climate policy from a faceless financier like ANZ Bank attract scathing rebukes from the Coalition Government (particularly the Nationals contingent). David Littleproud MP, the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management released a statement which would be considered insane in any other year but 2020, saying: “Banks are not and should not try to become society’s moral compass and arbiter – the Australian people decide that by who they elect.”
Unfortunately for Littleproud, he is entirely incorrect. The moral compass is not orientated by democratic whim (and certainly not polarised whim). If the study of history teaches us anything, it is that moral principles are not decided by a show of hands. Of course, what is even more ridiculous in Littleproud’s little discourse on ethics is the implied notion that the nation’s moral compass is its farmers. Perhaps Littleproud needs to re-read Spinoza’s Ethics, particularly the part in which the great Enlightenment philosopher warned against ever taking moral lessons from people who ride quad-bikes.
Littleproud concluded his little diatribe with a promise that The Nationals “will review every policy lever at the federal government’s disposal – including the availability of deposit guarantees – to protect Australian farmers from these sorts of arbitrary boardroom ideological agendas.” Of course, ANZ’s only ideology is to make money for its shareholders, which it is doing by slowly backing away from soon to be obsolete industries and choosing instead to invest in booming renewables.
In the same week as ANZ Bank attracted the ire of Littlefinger or whatever his name is, Brighte, the digital-first finance provider for solar and home improvements, and darling of Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, announced Australia’s first 100% green asset-backed securitisation. It’s a $190 million Climate Bond Initiative arranged by National Australia Bank (NAB) which gives a great many more Australians the opportunity to install solar plus battery storage solutions in their homes via buy-now pay-later green loans.
Of course, these are just some Australian examples, but few things are as globalised as finance. If this truism hadn’t been demonstrated enough in 2020, it was at least given a positive spin when French renewables giant, Neoen, currently constructing Australia’s largest solar park, the 460 MWp Western Downs Green Power Hub, achieved financial close on the project, the largest in its portfolio, through an international effort of green financiers, including, among five other international banks, Germany’s Norddeutsche Landesbank and British HSBC, totalling an investment of AUD$598 million.
Norddeutsche Landesbank’s Chairman of the Board of Management, Thomas Bürkle, said the bank has been active in green energy finance for almost 30 years. “What began with small wind farms in the North German Plain has now become a global market where our know-how is sought after. We are pleased that, despite the corona pandemic, we are again able to make a contribution to overcoming the climate crisis this year with numerous project financings in the renewable energy sector.”
Other Norddeutsche Landesbank financings in Australia include Genex Power’s 50 MW Jemalong Solar Farm in NSW and funding to repay the debt for the existing 50 MW Kidston Solar Farm in QLD, and BayWa r.e.’s 112 MW Karadoc Solar Farm in VIC.
The multi-party deal emphasises the accelerating shift toward global green finance. As a recent Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) report states, more than 120 major global banks and insurers have announced policies restricting coal financing and more are being announced every week. These funds are being redirected toward renewable projects.
Enter the inaugural Green Fund Power List published this year by A Word About Wind, a global community of renewable energy investment leaders. The list sought to find the 100 most influential individuals that directly invest in renewables via ‘green’ funds. Of the countries best represented in the top 100, Australia ranks fourth, with eight individuals, bettered only by Germany, the US and the UK. Australia’s solid performance took the list’s judges by surprise, but said they attributed the good showing “to Australia’s history of dedicated renewables funds, and the number of major wind, solar and storage developments in Australia to which those funds can be directed.”
The list also highlighted the companies which had the best showings in the top 100, including BlackRock and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) lead the way with five and four respectively. CIP recently partnered with Hydrogen Renewables Australia as it looks to develop the 5 GW Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project near Kalbarri in WA. Given projects like that it is no surprise that CIP’s Managing Partner, Jakob Baruël Poulsen topped the list. BlackRock’s David Giordano came in second place, and the first Aussie to feature is interim CEO of AGL Energy’s Powering Australian Renewables Fund (PARF), Geoff Dutaillis. Other Aussies include Angela Karl, who leads the Powering Australian Renewables Fund for QIC Global Infrastructure, Lane Crockett, head of Renewable Energy Infrastructure at Impact Investment Group, and Partners Group’s Andrew Kwok.
All in all, green finance has rapidly accelerated in 2020, and the next decade looks to be defining. From the minnow to the big fish, everyone can make money when it’s sunny.
Some of the biggest news in the last year, or at least, some of the biggest numbers, have come out of Australia’s ambition to become a hydrogen exporting superpower. Although the Federal Government’s National Hydrogen Strategy is technology neutral, like its Technology Roadmap, the words on everyone’s lips have been ‘green hydrogen’.
The biggest number to be mentioned at the outset is 26 GW, that’s the size of what is to become the Asian Renewable Energy Hub in the Pilbara. The Hub’s plan is to export hydrogen produced with wind and solar to trading partners in Asia. But that isn’t the only hub with such plans. In fact, it’s not even the only hub in the Pilbara with such plans. Engie and Yara have recently partnered to develop what they’re calling the Pilbara Hydrogen Hub.
Further down the WA coastline and Danish investment fund Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) has partnered with Hydrogen Renewables Australia for the development of the 5 GW Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project near Kalbarri. And further down the coastline still and we find the $300 million Arrowsmith Hydrogen Project.
WA is certainly leading the charge when it comes to green hydrogen, in fact, the state has already courting Germany as another major export partner for future green hydrogen production. But WA is no lone wolf. QLD, which has already greenlighted the Bundaberg Hydrogen Hub, also recently became the first state in Australia to establish a ministry for hydrogen. SA has extremely ambitious plans to develop a ‘world class renewable hydrogen industry.’ Viva Energy recently announced MoUs toward the transition of its oil refinery into the Geelong Energy Hub. And the University of New South Wales (UNSW), renown worldwide for its advanced research into photovoltaics, has also established a hydrogen research centre.
Australia has always been on the frontier of innovation in renewable energy, especially solar PV, and we’ve continued our good form through 2020. Researchers from the University of Newcastle kicked the year off in January with the development of a solar-powered atmospheric water generator, a clean and economical solution to the worsening problem of global water scarcity.
Over at Australian National University (ANU), researchers pushed the efficiency boundary on mechanically-stacked tandem solar cells to 27.7%. Meanwhile, over at Monash University, an international team developed a solar cell so ultralight and flexible that it could revolutionise the future of wearable tech. In April, fellow Monash researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science made a big leap forward in the use of semi-transparent solar cells in commercial applications like everyday glass.
Other researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science made a significant discovery in the fight against light-induced phase segregation in next-generation solar cells, a somewhat counter-intuitive solution encapsulated in the famous final words of German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “More light!” And in October, UNSW’s Xiaojing Hao won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for her pioneering work into thin-film photovoltaics.
On the startup front the progress has been no less innovative. Noteable examples include SunDrive, an Aussie startup recived $3 million in ARENA funding to scale up its next generation solar cells. Fulcrum 3D, a Sydney startup providing precise ground-based forecasting technologies for solar and wind generation. RayGen, who also received a $3 million injection from ARENA, is using the funding for its 4 MW “solar hydro” power plant in north-west VIC. Komo Energy is looking to boost ‘mid-scale’ solar PV through crowd equity. BlueVolt, led by UNSW solar scientist CEO Matt Edwards, who is “pretty stoked” about his Savo Solar Initiative which is seeking to reduce energy poverty on Pacific islands. Melbourne’s Relectrify, whose battery storage technology puts two into one and passes the savings on. And we cannot forget Power Ledger, the WA startup whose peer-to-peer energy trading technology is all the rage in Europe.
Of course, this is not to mention some of the innovative ways the solar industry itself has been evolving, such as through new techniques, as when Epho Commercial Solar started using helicopters to airlift solar panels onto hard to reach rooftops. Similarly, Smart Energy’s creative and empathetic business model has helped it expand across the country and into overseas markets. And Haystacks Solar Garden is seeking to help urban Australians locked behind the solar barrier access some natural light.
Some of the best news in 2020 came at the very end though, with the announcement that Australia’s leading solar research centre was to receive its first major funding grant in years. The Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (APAC) is set to receive a boost of $19 million from ARENA as part of the Agency’s latest funding extension.
As this review no doubt reminded you, 2020 has been a big pill to swallow. But hopefully, this review also reminded you that 2020 has been a year in which renewables, and particularly solar PV, showed its mettle. As we break for the holiday season I hope the brighter vision of 2021 brings solace, after all, that’s what solar PV does best.
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