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The challenge

Cost barriers to clean energy

Achieving targets for net zero emissions will disrupt transport, manufacturing, and electricity sectors.

Despite the current economic competitiveness of solar photovoltaics (PV), substantial cost barriers exist to fully displace fossil fuel usage. This is true for both electricity generation and industrial process sectors where complete electrification of industrial activities is desired.

Additionally, further cost reductions are necessary to improve Australia’s global competitiveness for exportable fuel and hydrogen industries – underpinned by access to low-cost renewable energy, dominated by solar photovoltaics that leverages on Australia’s invaluable solar resources.

The national challenge for PV has been defined by two target objectives:

  • The Low Emission Technology Statement (LETS, 2021) introduced a target of $15/MWh for levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility scale solar photovoltaic power by 2035.
  • The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) established a 30-30-30 target with aims to improve solar PV device efficiency to 30% and concurrently reduce the cost of installed solar PV to 30c/W by 2030.

To achieve these targeted decarbonisation goals will require both technology improvements and cost reductions throughout the PV supply chain.

Importantly the ULCS initiative is addressing soft-costs and deployment challenges downstream of current R&D in the industry that has a focus on cell-level improvements, only

Our response

Cross-disciplinary and industry focused low-cost solar

Australia has an opportunity to capitalise on its abundant and accessible solar resource, become a significant exporter of green energy and re-invigorate sovereign manufacturing in several industry sectors. CSIRO is well placed to enable this with a cross-disciplinary, industry focused ultra-low-cost solar offering.

The CSIRO Solar Technologies Group has built a very strong platform for responding to the ARENA 30-30-30 challenge as well as the government’s target of $15/MWh LCOE PV system cost, based on two decades of expertise and facilities development.

The team of scientists and engineers are experts in the design, fabrication, operation, and analysis of PV systems, as well as large-scale solar components and systems design, deployment, and operation/maintenance.

More broadly, CSIRO has the capability and structure required to solve multi-disciplinary problems via cross-business unit collaboration. Where expertise in advanced manufacturing, robotics, novel coatings, and earth science will all contribute to solving the national energy transition.

The concept of Ultra-Low-Cost Solar project represents a significant opportunity for technology-driven growth in response to decarbonisation and electrification megatrends. Projects within this initiative target specific areas of the PV value chain where opportunities for Australian competitive advantage have been identified through extensive stakeholder engagement, maximising the domestic impact of the work. The level of maturity, and incremental nature of the status quo of industry indicate significant opportunities for rapid deployment of new developments.

By reducing both the installation and maintenance costs of utility scale PV, this work will catalyse the rapid growth needed to meet the emission reduction targets for 2030 and beyond.

Projects are currently under development in the following areas:

  • Intelligent module and system designs that focus on material sustainability and component recycling for a completely circular production process
  • Toolsets for the design, operation and decommissioning of large-scale facilities that integrate innovations in technologies with the unique physical and social challenges posed by gigawatt scale deployment.
  • Novel coatings that can be applied post or pre-production to increase energy yield.
  • Advances in outdoor autonomous robotic tooling and control with application in construction and operation of facilities

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