Australian Solar Industry Seeks Chinese Assistance to Grow Domestic Manufacturing

Australia turns to China to boost its domestic solar panel manufacturing, leveraging China's 20-year technological advantage, as it launches a $1 billion 'Solar Sunshot' program to revive its solar production capabilities.

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Geeta Pillai
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Australian Solar Industry Seeks Chinese Assistance to Grow Domestic Manufacturing

Australian Solar Industry Seeks Chinese Assistance to Grow Domestic Manufacturing

The Australian solar industry is turning to China for help in growing its domestic solar panel manufacturing capabilities, two decades after China used Australian innovation to build its own dominant solar industry. In 2001, Chinese-Australian solar scientist Shi Zhengrong moved from Sydney to Wuxi, China to build the country's solar panel manufacturing industry from scratch using technology developed in Australian universities. This helped propel China to its current position as the global leader in solar panel production.

Now, Australia wants to ramp up its own small solar manufacturing industry, and Dr. Shi sees an opportunity for collaboration with China. Australia needs access to China's production line technology and manufacturing patents developed over the past 20 years to build a competitive domestic industry. Experts say Australia must work with China, including welcoming Chinese solar manufacturers into the country, to produce low-cost panels at scale given China's 20-year technological innovation advantage.

The Australian government has announced a $1 billion 'Solar Sunshot' program to boost solar panel production in Australia. The program, being developed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), aims to support the development of Australia's domestic solar supply chain, from polysilicon production to module manufacturing. The first round will focus on module manufacturing, while subsequent rounds will support other stages like polysilicon production and solar module recycling.

Why this matters: Developing a local solar manufacturing industry is seen as critical for Australia to make its energy transition more resilient to external shocks and reduce reliance on imported panels from China. The Solar Sunshot program represents a significant government investment to revive Australia's solar production capabilities and stake the country's place in the competitive global clean energy race.

However, there are concerns that the program could lead to subsidizing the production of panels that China can make more cheaply. The 'Silicon 2 Solar' report outlines a pathway for Australia to build a domestic solar supply chain, estimating it would require $3.2 billion in government financial support over 10 years. "Australia needs to work with China, including welcoming Chinese solar manufacturers into Australia, to build low-cost panels at scale," said Dr. Shi. "China has a 20-year technological innovation advantage that Australia needs access to in order to be competitive."

Key Takeaways

  • Australia seeks China's help to grow its domestic solar panel manufacturing.
  • Chinese-Australian scientist Shi Zhengrong helped build China's solar industry using Aussie tech.
  • Australia launches $1B 'Solar Sunshot' program to boost local solar supply chain.
  • Experts say Australia must collaborate with China to produce low-cost solar panels.
  • Australia needs access to China's 20-year solar tech innovation to be competitive.