Bowen says Australia could make 20 per cent of its solar panel needs

Image: Tindo Solar

Australia should be able to make and supply around 20 per cent of its own domestic solar demand, federal energy minister Chris Bowen has said, offering a new insight into what to expect if the Albanese government’s Solar Sunshot policy goes to plan.

In an interview with ABC Adelaide this week, Bowen noted that just one per cent of solar panels installed in Australia over the last year were manufactured in Australia – a situation he said was not sustainable leading into the dramatic uptick in demand that is expected to accompany the global race to net zero.

“At the moment 99 per cent of our solar panels come from overseas. One per cent of them come from Australia – i.e. Adelaide; Tindo is the one per cent of solar panels that are being manufactured in Australia over the last year,” Bowen said.

“We’ve put 60 million solar panels on our roofs in the last decade. We need to put another 60 million on in the next six years. And I don’t really think it’s sustainable or a good idea to have one per cent of those made in Australia on an ongoing basis.”

Asked on ABC Adelaide what percentage of solar panels he believes could be made in Australia, Bowen responded: “Around 20 per cent in ideal circumstances.”

“We have never said that we can make all we need here or that we can make every bit of the supply chain or, you know, do everything,” he added.

“And, indeed, what we want is a more diverse supply chain. We want to be making more things here.”

This is a key theme for the Albanese government, with the PM himself using the same phrase to introduce Labor’s National Battery Strategy, which has a similar ambition to take Australia from around 1 per cent of the supply chain to a competitive player by 2035.

“We want to make more things here and with global demand for batteries set to quadruple by 2030, Australia must be a player in this field,” said Albanese on Thursday.

Bowen was in South Australia this week on a tour of two companies based in that state – Tindo and 5B – that are expected to be among the key beneficiaries of the Solar Sunshot first spending round, as well as a key players in the government’s Future Made in Australia plans.

Tindo CEO Richard Petterson says the company’s plans to build Australia’s first solar panel manufacturing “gigafactory” were among the subjects covered during Bowen’s visit.

Petterson says the production credits system used for Solar Sunshot will help narrow the price gap between locally made panels and imports while the industry scales.

Tindo is also proposing an expansion of its current facility in Adelaide at the same time as building a factory on the east coast that will be capable of producing 1GW of premium quality panels per annum.

Petterson says that based on Tindo’s experience at its 150MW factory in Adelaide, 1GW+ is the scale required to catalyse a domestic downstream supply chain and the company is in talks with local manufacturers of glass, aluminium, solar cells and other components. 

“There is clear need for Australia to build sovereign capability in renewables manufacturing, and to ensure there is more Australian-made content in clean energy infrastructure as we decarbonise our electricity system,” he said in a statement.

“To build a renewables manufacturing industry we need scale, and we see Sunshot as a practical short-term way to do that.”

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