Albanese announces $1 billion ‘pit to panel” solar manufacturing program

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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit the decommissioned coal-fired Liddell power station in the New South Wales Hunter Valley today to formally announce the $1 billion (USD 650 million) Solar SunShot program that aims to increase the number of solar panels made in Australia.

More than 3.7 million Australian homes have installed rooftop solar, the highest uptake rate in the world, but only about 1% of those panels are manufactured locally with Adelaide-based Tindo Solar the only homegrown solar panel manufacturer.

The federal government hopes to change that with its new Solar SunShot program that will provide subsidies, grants and other forms of support to increase Australia’s place in the global solar manufacturing supply chain.

In a statement, Albanese said Australia “should not be the last link in a global supply chain built on an Australian invention.”

“We have every metal and critical mineral necessary to be a central player in the net zero transformation, and a proven track record as a reliable energy producer and exporter,” he said.

“Historically, Australia has been good at going from the mining pit to port, and long may this continue. But the Australian government will also invest in the path from pit to panels and capture more value for our economy and workforce.”

While the details of the Solar SunShot program remain scant, the government said the Australia Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will consult industry to design and deliver the initiative.

The government said in a statement that “ARENA will look at the entire supply chain from ingots and wafers to cells, module assembly and related components, including solar glass, inverters, advanced deployment technology and solar innovation.”

The consultation is expected to commence in mid-April.

The announcement has been enthusiastically welcomed by industry with David Griffin, Chief Executive Officer of modular solar array manufacturer 5B, labelling it a “a very positive development” for Australian solar manufacturing.

“This clear action plan from the government will make innovative, locally manufactured solar technologies more scalable, for Australian manufacturers to meet the energy transition demand,” he said.

“Strategic policies like this have catalysed solar manufacturers in overseas markets, so we know how significant a boost it provides for home-grown companies like 5B.”

​The government’s Solar SunShot program comes after a major report from the CSIRO last year mapped out how Australia could develop a domestic silicon and solar cell supply chain, from mining through to manufacturing.

The report highlighted that despite Australia’s world-leading role in solar research and development, and its world-leading uptake of rooftop PV, its reliance on overseas supply chains remains a major weak spot.

Clean Energy Council (CEC) Chief Executive Kane Thornton said the SunShot program is the “missing piece of the puzzle” to establish a strong sovereign manufacturing capability that “captures this innovation and expertise to meet more of the extraordinary demand, both here and overseas, for solar products.”

“Australia has led the rest of the world in the research, development and uptake of rooftop solar systems, but we have thus far missed the opportunity to manufacture more of these components here at home. This is about to change,” he said.

The announcement of the Solar SunShot program comes after legislation was introduced on Wednesday to establish the Net Zero Economy Authority to “catalyse investment” in a clean energy future made in the regions.

In parallel to the launch of the Solar SunShot program, the NSW government rolled out its Net Zero Manufacturing Initiative, with the $275 million first round now open to support workers, small businesses, manufacturers and innovators to take advantage of the transformation of the state’s energy grid.

NSW Energy Minister Penny Sharpe said the initiative will strengthen the state’s manufacturing sector.

“This will see NSW households putting NSW made solar panels on their roofs to deliver long term energy bill savings and a strong domestic renewable manufacturing sector,” she said.

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