Australia is known for its abundant sunshine, but harnessing this resource efficiently and cost-effectively is an ongoing challenge. We are already a world leader in the rollout of rooftop photovoltaics (PV), but in order to take full advantage of our rich solar resource, we need to reduce the cost of large-scale PV. Doing so will help reach national and international emissions reduction targets, position Australia as an exporter of green energy, and reinvigorate our national manufacturing industry.

Achieving the goal of affordable, efficient, utility-scale PV requires a new approach that goes beyond a traditional manufacturing focus. In response to this challenge, CSIRO has established a multidisciplinary Ultra Low-Cost Solar (ULCS) initiative, which is taking a whole-of-system approach to cost reduction and addressing important industry challenges beyond rooftop solar.

Dr Gregory Wilson, Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Energy, said that the scope of the ULCS initiative extends well beyond improving solar cell efficiency or producing the lowest cost solar module.

“We’re not just harnessing the power of the sun; we’re harnessing the power of Australian innovation,” Dr Wilson said

Expanding the solar value chain
The traditional solar value chain, from silica exploration to panel manufacture and recycling, has been the focus of many initiatives in the renewable energy sector. However, the ULCS initiative expands on this chain to include stages related to module and system deployment, and, importantly, the impacts and cost reductions that can be achieved when the scale of deployments reaches into the tens of gigawatts as the energy sector transitions in the decade ahead.

“We’re looking beyond traditional manufacturing and exploring untapped areas like modular system components, enhanced optics, and automated deployment systems,” Dr Wilson said.

“Large-scale systems are built using millions of solar panels and how these come together – in a consistent, standard assembly – can lead to improvements in supply-chain, reduce labour constraints, accessing alternative local materials and flow through as cost reductions. A ruggedised Australian module, with systems assembled using robotic equipment is one view of the future for the industry in the decade ahead. There is an exciting opportunity to develop novel technologies that respond to Australia’s unique conditions.”

This comprehensive approach, developed in consultation with stakeholders, allows researchers and industry to identify additional opportunities for cost reduction and efficiency improvements. In doing so, the initiative can stimulate economic growth and promote sustainability, while also creating tailored solutions for Australia’s energy transition.

Leveraging Australia’s unique attributes
Australia’s sunny reputation has long been celebrated in everything from tourism campaigns to poetry. “I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains,” wrote Dorothea Mackellar.

We have the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent, along with unique geotechnical and geophysical attributes. Through the ULCS initiative, CSIRO is working with industry startups to accelerate the growth of PV manufacturing within Australia, enabling low-cost technologies that are appropriate for our unique landscape.

“We’re assessing Australia’s distinctive climate and physical attributes to optimise solar installations. This allows us to maximise efficiency and reduce costs,” Dr Wilson said.

“By strategically leveraging these attributes, we can not only improve the efficiency of solar installations but also contribute to Australia’s energy security by reducing reliance on imported energy sources, materials and components.

“This is particularly important in a world where energy security is increasingly linked to national security and supplementing the global supply chain by sourcing local components, technologies and in-country relevant conditions helps Australia and helps stabilise international supply.”

Embracing the circular economy
Sustainability should be at the heart of any initiative in this second-coming of solar, as we approach a global annual production of a terawatt (a trillion watts) of manufactured solar panels.

“We’re thinking about sustainability throughout the whole value chain: from design all the way through to recycling,” Dr Wilson said.

“By embedding circular economy principles into how a solar panel might be better designed, through to the materials and components in deployed systems, we’re ensuring that our initiative is sustainable and contributes positively to the environment.

“This focus on the circular economy is not just about doing the right thing for the environment. It’s also about creating a sustainable business model that can deliver long-term value for Australia.”

Job creation and domestic manufacturing
By expanding the solar value chain, a sector-wide ULCS initiative opens up new avenues for domestic manufacturing and supply. This creates jobs and drives economic growth in Australia. It also aligns with the recently announced Solar SunShot Program that aims to boost Australian manufacturing and innovation.

“Our initiative is about more than solar energy, it’s about creating jobs, boosting our economy, and securing Australia’s energy future,” Dr Wilson said.

This focus on job creation and domestic manufacturing is a key differentiator of the ULCS initiative. It’s about creating a sustainable, home- grown solar industry that complements the existing global supply chain and allows Australia to remain competitive on the global stage.

Implications for Australia’s electricity networks
The goals of the ULCS initiative have significant implications for Australia’s electricity networks, particularly those on the east coast managed by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

By reducing the cost of solar energy, the initiative aims to increase the uptake of solar power, reducing demand on the grid and lowering electricity prices. Meeting the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)’s long-term targets of $0.30/Watt for systems deployment will require more than just advanced panels. It needs poles, wires and better overall management of energy flows to meet demand.

Increasing the supply of renewable energy during peak sunlight hours could help meet sustainable energy demand in the National Electricity Market (NEM). When deployed in conjunction with other energy technologies entering the market – including big batteries, smart grids and thermal energy storage – large scale solar installations could reduce reliance on conventional centralised power stations, helping Australia to meet its renewable energy targets.

Opportunities for the resources sector
While PV is an economically competitive technology, there remains a cost barrier to fully displacing fossil fuel usage – especially in industrial process sectors. A multidisciplinary approach and established relationships between CSIRO and industry stakeholders mean that the ULCS initiative presents an opportunity to develop large-scale solar so that it can provide a viable power source for mining and resource refining operations, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels as the sector transitions to more sustainable, low-emissions pathways.

Moreover, for remote installations of large-scale solar, these are behind-the- meter, which means the network and load-balancing requirements can be managed in a localised environment. Large scale solar could further enhance energy security for these operations.

By generating power onsite, these systems can reduce transmission losses, transmission and network infrastructure costs and provide a reliable power supply, even in remote locations.

Looking ahead
As Australia strives to reach emissions reduction targets and transitions to a more sustainable economy, initiatives like ULCS will play a crucial role. By harnessing Australia’s world-leading solar resource, we can improve security, enhance sovereign manufacturing, and contribute to the global value chain security through international collaborations and partnerships.

“We are excited about this opportunity to innovate and explore new areas of the solar value chain,” Dr Wilson said.

“Imagine a future where solar energy is not just affordable, but ultra-low-cost. That’s the future CSIRO is building.”

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by CSIRO. For more information, visit

Featured image: Zhengzaishuru/

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