Solar panel startup SunDrive has opened a pilot production and commercialisation facility in southern Sydney, having also landed another $11 million in funding from the government-backed Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen opened the plant in Kurnell on Wednesday. SunDrive, which has received extensive VC funding from the likes of CSIRO’s Main Sequence Ventures and Blackbird, has developed rooftop solar panels that could be 20-30% cheaper than existing panels by using copper, rather than silver, in the production process.
The solar PV industry uses around 10% of the world’s silver, and 20% of total industrial demand. Copper is nearly 100 times cheaper than silver and far more abundant.
Twelve months ago SunDrive raised $21 million in a Series B, backed by the likes of former PM Malcolm Turnbull, Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes, Canva’s Cameron Adams, Tesla chair Robyn Denholm and the Clean Energy Finance Corporatio . Blackbird has backed the concept since 2018’s Seed round and then a $5 million Series A in 2020.
SunDrive began life in a Wollongong garage in 2015, cofounded by uni mates Vince Allen and David Hu. Last year the startup teamed up with Sydney University on $2.78 million research project tandem stacking solar cells to convert more solar energy into power. They’ve already developed the world’s most efficient commercial-sized solar cell.
ARENA, which previously tipped $3 million into the idea, has now invested a further $11 million for SunDrive to expand its metallisation technology from prototype scale (1.5 MW/yr) to commercial capacity (>100 MW/yr). ARENA CEO Darren Miller said it was vital to support homegrown innovation to further reduce the cost of solar.
“To make ultra low-cost solar a reality, it is crucial that our scientists and researchers keep innovating and improving solar cells and module design,” he said.
“SunDrive’s technology that replaces silver with copper is a potential game changer and highlights why now is the time to invest in technologies for our future economic success.”
Take a first behind the scenes look at SunDrive's new facility in Kurnell, NSW. Australian innovation. Next generation advanced manufacturing. Unlocking solar's full potential. pic.twitter.com/HfTN90wbDg
— SunDrive (@sundrivesolar) October 26, 2023
Opening the new plant in Sydney this week, prime minister Albanese said SunDrive is an example of how technology can deliver a comparative advantage for Australia against countries with lower labour costs.
“What’s important is innovation, creativity and scale. And here we have all of the above. And there’s no reason why Australia can’t be not just a producer of solar panels for domestic use given we are the highest per capita user of solar panels in the world,” he said.
“We can be an exporter of what we produce as well. We know that unless we move forward the world will just move past us.”
SunDrive CEO Vince Allen said the support and opening of the production facility was “an amazing moment, not only for our company, but for the country” with the potential to make the nation an advanced solar manufacturing powerhouse alongside being a renewable energy superpower.
“Australia is truly blessed with our talent, innovation capability, critical minerals, and access to renewable energy. And with these Australia can establish a domestic solar manufacturing industry that not only helps Australia achieve Net Zero, but the rest of the world too,” he said.
“With ARENA’s continued support, SunDrive, an Australian founded company, has been able to compete with the world’s largest solar PV companies to produce the world’s most efficient commercial size solar cell.”