Australia’s status as a global leader in solar power has received a major boost with the Turnbull Government investing $1.6 million in a world-first project aimed at creating cheaper electricity systems by using printed solar panels. The initiative will see CSIRO join forces with two Australian companies to create unique technology that can integrate printed solar cells into building products, such as roofs. The partnership could lead to a commercial operation within the next few years, creating jobs and boosting export potential. “This is an extremely exciting project which sees science partnering with industry to create jobs and growth potential for Australia,” Minister Hunt said. Printed solar cells are made by printing ‘solar inks’ onto rolls of plastic film using industrial printing equipment. The resulting solar panels are thin, flexible and lightweight, so they can be incorporated into objects and structures in ways that conventional solar panels can’t.
“If successful, the two-year project will help to slash the cost of solar PV and create an environmentally responsible building material that doesn’t compromise architectural integrity,” Minister Hunt said. Australia leads the world in the uptake of domestic solar systems, with around 15% of homes installing them. But at present, the commercial sector remains a largely untapped market, due to expense, safety risk and difficulty of installing current systems. “By supporting this project, the Turnbull Government is helping Australian industry take advantage of Australia’s commercial solar market, which is estimated to be worth $250 million a year,” Minister Hunt said.
In addition to the commercial solar market in Australia, the global market for printed electronics more broadly is expected to be worth $40 billion a year by 2020, presenting another opportunity for industry. New South Wales-based start-up Solafast and high-tech Melbourne printing company Norwood are the other partners working on the innovative project. CSIRO Industrial Innovation’s group leader, Dr Fiona Scholes, said each partner brings something important to the mix. “CSIRO provides the solar know-how while Norwood can take our printed electronics into the main-stream and create large-scale industrial volumes,” Dr Scholes said. “Solafast’s innovative steel roll-forming technology completes the picture, allowing the solar cells to be incorporated into roof and external cladding products.” The Turnbull Government’s funding was provided through the new CRC Projects (CRC-P) initiative as part of the Cooperative Research Centres Programme, which supports industry-led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community.