More Efficient Solar Panels Could Be Coming With a $45 Million Grant to Researchers

More Efficient Solar Panels Could Be Coming With a $45 Million Grant to Researchers
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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), a government body built to oversee renewable energy in Australia, is set to announce a $45 million grant for solar panel research at UNSW, as first reported by The Guardian Australia.

The Guardian Australia report outlines that the grant will be going to UNSW’s Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP). The ARENA announcement was released shortly after the publication of this article.

The funding will assist in developing material alternatives to what is currently used in solar panels, increase panel efficiency and make use of more abundant materials. It is an extension of funding that ACAP has received over the years, adding in USYD and the CSIRO’s Newcastle energy group as partners. The group seeks to foster commercial partners for future growth.

Though solar panels appear to be mostly steel and glass at first glance, the internal solar cells are made up of indium, gallium, selenium, cadmium and tellurium, silver, along with some minor metals. These are rarer minerals than most common metals, so increasing the efficiency of solar panels and cutting down on our dependence on these is the goal.

The funding will go towards studying “tandem cells”, increasing manufacturing capacity in Australia and trying to mass-produce solar cells with 30 per cent efficiency at a cost of 30 cents per watt (more efficient than panels available on the market right now).

“Australia has all the ingredients to become a renewable energy superpower with this government working collaboratively to ensure secure, affordable and reliable energy that drives down emissions,” Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said.

In case you missed it, the 2022 Queensland Budget included support for  “new economy minerals”. A lot of these minerals can be mined in Australia, and support for mining these minerals has been steadily increasing over the past year.

The $45 million grant will be issued over eight years, with most of it set to be spent within the first five years.

Fun fact: Australia actually has a proud history with solar panel development, including when UNSW professor Martin Green (the leader of ACAP) developed the first 20 per cent efficiency solar panel (he doubled this in 2014). His research went on to inform the commercially available solar panels of today. We were also one of the first nations to fund solar panel research, in the 1950s.

“The next decade promises to be the most exciting and important in solar PV, ever, with massively increased uptake and technological change. With ARENA’s support, we will continue our world class technology development including more efficient and powerful cell technologies, and growing a sustainable solar sector at scale,” added Green.

This research funding sounds terrific. Last month, we crunched the numbers on how many panels and how much land it would take to power Sydney from solar (spoiler: it’s a lot), so any further efficiency breakthroughs are very welcome.

If you want to read more about ARENA’s UNSW funding, definitely give The Guardian’s article a read. It’s a cracker. Alternatively, give the official ARENA announcement a read.

This article has been updated since it was originally published.