SunDrive innovation aims to slash solar costs

Solar panels already deliver Australia’s cheapest electricity but SunDrive says its novel copper-based technology could cut installed costs by up to 30 per cent.

By: Andrew Webster

Solar cell pioneers SunDrive Solar are set to take a giant step towards delivering a new generation of cheaper solar panels at commercial scale.

The Australian company’s technology replaces one of the most expensive components of a solar cell. Instead, it uses an alternative that is around 100 times cheaper and much more efficient.

SunDrive has already created the world’s most efficient commercial-sized solar cell. The company believes its advances will also see installed solar costs fall by 20 to 30 per cent.

Now, ARENA has announced $11 million in funding to help SunDrive expand its Sydney-based operations.

SunDrive has demonstrated production of its novel solar cell metallisation technology at prototype scale. With ARENA’s support, it aims to boost the prototype cell’s output from 1.5 MW per year, to over 100 MW per year.

Officially opening SunDrive’s new site in Kurnell, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was an opportunity to celebrate a world-leading example of Australian innovation.

“The global race for affordable and reliable renewable energy has never been more intense, or more important,” he said.

“And leading on efficiency is a tremendous source of competitive advantage. It means lowering costs – and reducing emissions.”

How does SunDrive’s technology work?

SunDrive’s breakthrough comes from using copper instead of expensive silver paste in its solar cell construction.

Copper is around 100 times cheaper than silver and 1000 times more abundant, so that’s a great start.

SunDrive says its unique plated-copper technology allows for thinner silicon wafers. That cuts costs again, because silicon is another expensive component of solar cells.

Once applied to the silicon, SunDrive’s copper electrodes are more conductive than silver-paste electrodes. That reduces resistive losses and improves efficiency.

The technology also allows SunDrive to lay down a higher density of narrower lines of electrodes. That enables more light absorption and further boosts efficiency.

How has ARENA supported SunDrive?

Prime Minister Anthoby Albanese and SunDrive staff at the official opening of the Kurnell facility
SunDrive has come a long way in the eight years since beginning life in a Sydney garage (Image: SunDrive)

SunDrive began life in a Sydney garage in 2015 when co-founders and former flatmates Vince Allen and David Hu began working on the plated copper alternative to silver pastes, which Allen had developed while studying for his PhD at the University of New South Wales.

By 2020, the pair were ready to embark on the road towards a commercial-scale future.

ARENA initially provided $3 million funding for a $9 million project to help SunDrive relocate to a South Sydney location. With ARENA’s help SunDrive were able to recruit staff and develop a prototype production line.

Vince Allen, now SunDrive’s CEO, 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.”

“To achieve net zero by 2050, we are going to need more advanced solar technologies,” he said.

“Today only 1% per cent of the world’s energy comes from solar. Current technology is already at its limit in terms of cost, efficiency and material scalability, and the use of silver is behind all three of these.

“With SunDrive’s breakthrough copper technology, these roadblocks can be overcome unlocking a new generation of solar technology.”

Enabling Ultra Low-Cost Solar

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said it was vital to support homegrown innovation to further reduce the cost of solar.

“SunDrive’s technology that replaces silver with copper is a potential game changer,” he said.

“It highlights why now is the time to invest in technologies for our future economic success.

“ARENA has supported the company for a number of years now and we’re delighted to continue our support to see SunDrive become a key player in our emissions reduction aims.”

ARENA recently released its white paper on the incredible potential of Ultra Low-Cost Solar for Australia and the world.

At the forefront of the white paper is ARENA’s 30-30-30 vision for ultra low-cost solar in Australia, which represents 30 per cent solar module efficiency and an installed cost of 30 cents per watt by 2030.

SunDrive’s project aligns with this strategic priority by aiming to accelerate progress towards achieving cost-competitive manufacturing of 30 per cent efficient modules.


Andrew Webster