Australia has a golden opportunity to expand solar energy production.

Australia has a golden opportunity to expand its solar power generation capacity as the industry booms and countries scramble to cut their over-reliance on China, according to a report by Australia’s PV Institute.

The country is installing 4GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity annually, but only 3 percent of it is installed by local supplier Adelaide Tindo Solar. But that annual installation is predicted to triple by 2050, especially if Australia becomes a major exporter of renewable energy.

“We have an urgent need, we have natural resources and a very large market,” the report said. “Until Australia manages the most strategic PV value chain, the development of any ‘green’ export market will be entirely dependent on external forces.”

APVI Secretary and Head of Australia’s Senior Photovoltaics Center Renate Egan said China remains an important supplier of panels to Australia, but it is important to diversify supply, including by using local companies.

“You can compare it to Europe relying on gas from Russia,” Egan said, citing shortages and rising gas prices after Moscow imposed an export ban in retaliation for sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Our world is increasingly dependent on solar power generation for energy transition [from fossil fuels],” she said. With more than 90% of the technology coming from China, they are aware of the risks.

As Australia struggles to secure supplies of vaccines and medical equipment, the Covid-19 pandemic has fueled demand for more local manufacturing capacity.

Continued supply chain disruptions, particularly as China maintains its zero-covid policy, have created further impetus for calls for more domestic production capacity.

Ed Husich, a spokesman for the Minister for Industry and Science, said solar was “going to be a big part of Australia’s renewable energy future”.

“The Albanese Government will provide exceptional support through Powering Australia – a $3 billion co-investment as part of the National Recovery Fund,” he said. “A big part of the focus will be on renewable energy production and low emissions technologies, including the production of batteries and solar panels.

By 2030, the government plans to have 82% renewables in the national electricity market. To achieve this, we need to produce much more solar power onshore and diversify our global supply chain.

Current trade tensions between Australia and China have escalated with “the risk of introducing sanctions or sudden price changes”, the APVI newspaper said.

“More concern for this risk is the use of forced labor in parts of China, where most of the silicon, wafers and steel are produced in PV units,” he said.

Egan said Australian technology was used in 90% of PV panels made today, underscoring the country’s scientific pedigree in the sector. The country does not need to do all the parts in the modules, but it can be unique.

Domestic firms may manufacture glass, aluminum frames, polymers or electronics as inventors, but leave polysilicon – a key raw material – to others.

“I think it’s at the top end of silicon refining and then module assembly,” Egan said. We need to make some smart decisions and deploy wisely.

The paper cited existing suppliers including Selectronic, one of the world’s oldest inverter makers.

SunDrive is a startup considering commercial-scale silicon-based solar cell manufacturing in Australia, and 5B is looking for low-cost PV deployments to supply some of the multi-gigawatt-scale solar farms planned for northern Australia.

“To succeed globally, these new companies will benefit from a concerted effort to achieve market certainty and scale,” the paper said.

They could include Sun Cable, a venture backed by billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest, which aims to build a 12,000-hectare solar farm in the Northern Territory with 17-20GW of capacity and 36-42GW-hours of energy storage.

Forestry’s Fortescue Group revealed last week that it plans to build 2-3GW of renewable energy using solar and wind plants between 2024-28. He is also working to identify and address bottlenecks in the global supply of carbon technology, and as part of that effort he is building the world’s largest electrolyser hydrogen plant in Gladstone.

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