The developer of utility-scale concentrated solar photovoltaic technology says Australian exports of high tech solar components could total $1 billion or more by the end of the decade.
Bob Cart, the founder and CEO of Melbourne-based Raygen, which is developing a technology that it says could be the “cheapest in the world”, says that the policy environment will be critical.
Key to Cart’s ambition to cut the cost of the technology to $60/MWh and below is the cost of financing, and the cost of financing will not come down easily with uncertainty about policy.
“The question over the future of the CEFC. ARENA, and the carbon price, is not good for us,” he told RenewEconomy on Thursday at the official launch of a pilot plant in Bayswater, suburban Melbourne.
The policy in China, however, was completely different, Cart said. There it was clear that the government policy supported renewables and “as astounding amount” of funding was available. “It really is the perfect storm,” he says.
Raygen has signed a $60 million deal with a Chinese firm to manufacture and distribute some of the large components of the technology, but plans to retain the “high tech” portion, which includes the receiver, software and.
It is this, Cart says, that could amount to more than $1 billion in export earnings by the end of the decade.
The pilot plant is a precursor to a 200kW demonstration plant that will be built this year near the central Victorian town of Bendigo.
Cart says the technology could be world-leading, with the likelihood that the levellised cost of the technology could fall as low as $60/MWh – making it cheaper than fossil fuels, including new coal plans.
“This marks the completion of the pilot project. It is proof that technology performs as designed. Now we know it works, we can scale up,” he said.
Cart says the technology may be able to do “significantly better’ than $60/MWh, but that will depend on financing and the cost of capital. That, in turn, depends on the policy environment.
“This technology ticks the box in terms of commercial aspects, but the policy environment has certainly got tougher. Uncertainty makes it difficult to raise capital.
“Our technology means that we will be able to operate in an environment without government support, but we have got to get through to that point.
The question is can we get it down fast enough if government support (for renewables) disappears. Once we are through that point, we can compete with any energy source.”
Cart says the pilot and test plants will create an $80 million economic boost and up to 20 high-tech jobs over the next 12 months, with the involvement of a further 80 people contributing specific skills.
The plant was supported by A $1 million grant by the Victorian Government. Energy minister Russell Northe officially opened the Bayswater site. “This technology has great export potential and offers a huge prospect for Victorian jobs as our manufacturing industry evolves with a focus on innovation and highly-skilled expertise,” Northe said in a statement.
There are numerous versions of CSPV technology, including one developed by Solar Systems, and being used in its 3MW demonstration plant in Mildura, and a 1MW plant in Saudi Arabia. That technology, however, is now for sale.
The Fraunhofer Institute earlier this week said it had set a new record for CSPV modules, setting a new mark in module efficiency of 36.7 per cent.
Raygen says its technology uses a field of computer-controlled mirrors (heliostats) to concentrate the equivalent of 800 suns on to ultra-efficient semiconductor devices originally designed to power spacecraft.
It says these are twice as efficient as traditional solar cells, and enables industrial- capacity solar power to be delivered on or off-grid at a “fraction of the cost” of fossil fuels and alternative renewables.
“Our progress so far demonstrates that technology innovation is capable of producing strong returns for the Australian economy”, Cart said in a statement.
“We’ve only scratched the surface, with the potential for Australian CSPV solutions to reach $1 billion in exports by the end of the decade.”