• Federal government invests $1 billion in solar manufacturing.
    Federal government invests $1 billion in solar manufacturing.

The federal government has committed $1 billion in new funding to help unlock domestic solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing across the entire supply chain. 

Known as the Solar Sunshot program, it will be delivered by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The goal is to grow solar PV manufacturing in Australia and provide a pathway for the rich history of local solar PV innovation to be commercialised.

ARENA will work with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) to scale up Australia’s manufacturing capabilities and identify areas of the supply chain where grant funding can help kickstart the industry.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the agency has been at the forefront of building Australia’s solar PV industry through its support for research, innovation and large-scale deployment.

“We’re pleased to see the Australian Government recognise ARENA’s wealth of experience and close relationships with industry by calling on us to deliver the Solar Sunshot program,” he said.

“To date, ARENA has invested more than $830 million towards 233 solar PV projects. We are ready to take on the next step alongside others in the solar industry to create a domestic solar manufacturing industry.” 

The Solar Sunshot program could provide support in a range of areas including polysilicon, ingots and wafers, cells, module assembly, and other parts of the solar supply chain, including solar glass, advanced deployment technology, or other areas identified through industry consultation. 

ARENA funded the Australian Photovoltaic Institute’s (APVI) Silicon to Solar Report to investigate solar manufacturing capability and potential in Australia.

The report outlined a credible pathway for a domestic supply chain that could result in benefits such as securing access to solar PV components as Australia significantly scales up deployment of solar PV, creating local jobs, private investment and unlocking export opportunities. 

ARENA and DCCEEW will publish a consultation paper outlining proposed specifications for the program, including objectives, funding mechanisms, timings, and draft eligibility and merit criteria. 

“Australia has the opportunity to build high quality products across the solar PV supply chain. Although we have a very small production capability today, we have the skills and the partnerships to establish a strong base that can be built on over the next decade,” Miller said. 

Following the consultation period, ARENA and DCCEEW will develop the final program design. 

Interested stakeholders can register their interest in participating in the consultation process at https://arena.gov.au/funding/solar-sunshot/

The announcement was welcomed by industry groups including Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).

BZE CEO Heidi Lee said the independent think tank had been calling for government investment in Australian manufacturing capability.

“Australia has a huge opportunity to be a big part of the solar panel supply chain, rather than being completely reliant on other countries to build the parts we need for our energy shift,” Lee said.

“Obviously China makes the lion’s share of the solar panels which go onto Australian rooftops, and we can instead manufacture these parts and panels in regions such as the Hunter, the Latrobe Valley, Illawarra and Central Queensland. These are all regions BZE has suggested can host renewables-powered industrial and manufacturing zones.”

The announcement coincided with news that AGL and solar technology company, SunDrive, will explore the development of a solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing facility at AGL’s future Hunter Energy Hub in the Hunter Region, NSW.

If established, the advanced manufacturing facility is expected to be the first of its kind in Australia.

Meanwhile, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) also welcomed news of the billion dollar investment.

AMWU National Secretary Steve Murphy said it is a big step forward in the journey toward securing Australia's clean energy future.

Murphy said the program will help create tens of thousands of secure, high-quality, and highly skilled jobs in regional areas and generate billions more in investment and economic growth.

“In the race for jobs in the world’s booming renewable energy manufacturing sector, Australia has finally fired the starting gun,” he said.

“Additionally, the AMWU welcomes the NSW government’s $275 million Net Zero Manufacturing Initiative, which will see government procurement leveraged to support local manufacturers of renewable energy products through offtake agreements.”