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Electricity demand drops as solar surges

AEMO’s latest quarterly report has revealed that rooftop solar has helped to drive demand for electricity from the grid to its lowest level in 16 years.

In the new report, AEMO says the average level of demand across the NEM dropped to the lowest level since 2002 in the fourth quarter of 2018, and that South Australia set a new all-time minimum demand record on October 21.

It attributes the drop in demand to the growing uptake of rooftop solar, as well as improvements to efficiency and a decline in energy intensive industries.

The lower demand did not translate to lower wholesale electricity prices, which reached record levels during the quarter in all regions except Tasmania.

AEMO say a range of factors can be blamed for the high prices, including the closure of 4,000 MW of coal power generation in recent years, unplanned outages at Victorian brown coal power stations during the quarter, and high gas prices.

In a sign of the challenges the market has ahead as more solar and behind the meter assets come online, Queensland also set a new record for peak demand on February 14.

ARENA is supporting work that integrates consumer-owned small scale assets – known as distributed energy resources -into the electricity network, recently announcing nearly $10 million in funding for 12 new projects and studies.

There are already more than two million rooftop solar installations nationwide, up from just 14,000 a decade ago.

According to Green Energy Markets December Renewable Energy Index, these rooftop solar systems provided for more than six per cent of Australia’s electricity during December. As a share of the total generation mix, rooftop solar is rapidly catching up to hydropower.

By 2050, this is expected to increase to up to 45 per cent of all generation, according to forecasts by AEMO and CSIRO.

In late 2018 ARENA CEO Darren Miller launched the Distributed Energy Integration Program – a collaboration between energy sector peak bodies and industry and consumer associations.

Rooftop solar passes two million milestone

Australia’s renewable energy sector has passed another milestone, with new Clean Energy Regulator data showing more than two million households have installed rooftop solar.

The milestone has been reached just five and a half years after Australia passed the one million mark, with predictions that installations will ramp up on the back of new state-based schemes supporting household solar and storage.

This year has already eclipsed 2017 for total numbers of solar systems installed, as consumers embrace renewable energy to take control of power bills. The rise in solar comes as panels become more affordable than ever before – modelling shows the upfront cost of an installation can now be repaid within five years in all Australian capital cities.

Solar roof

Queensland leads all states for solar uptake, where 30 per cent of all households have made the leap to save money and soften their environmental impact. The new data shows that more than 2.3 GW of solar capacity has been installed across nearly 600,000 Queensland rooftops, with Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Caloundra and Toowoomba holding four of the top five places on the national solar leaderboard.

South Australia’s solar uptake is also strong, with almost one third of all homes making the leap and installing rooftop systems. Penetration in Victoria and New South Wales is lower in comparison, where just 15 per cent of households have installed solar panels to date.

The latest figures are based on an analysis of Clean Energy Regulator data undertaken by the the Clean Energy Council, with support from solar energy consultants Sunwiz.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton said homes with rooftop solar are saving on average of about $540 per year on their electricity bills.

“An average of six panels per minute are being installed in Australia, with the Australian Energy Market Operator estimating an average of 10-20 panels per minute if large-scale solar projects are factored in,” he said.

“Along the way a new industry has been created – thousands of sparkies have specialised in solar power, and it’s hard to find a group of people with as much passion for what they do,” he said.

As Australia passes the latest solar milestone, work is underway to prepare for the increasingly distributed energy future.

The Distributed Energy Integration Program was recently launched to find ways to maximise the value of customers’ DER for all energy users.

Under the new initiative, ARENA will collaborate with government agencies, market authorities, industry and consumers associations to ensure the energy system works for everybody as it undergoes its greatest transformation to date.

Redesigning the electricity network won’t be easy. As solar soars, electric vehicles become a mainstream option, smart appliances take off, and new efficiency and demand management technology takes off, the energy system of the future will be unrecognisable from today.

With predictions that up to 45 per cent of electricity will be supplied by behind the meter assets by 2050, there is no time to waste finding ways to integrate all the distributed energy resources into the grid.

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ECLIPS Container Roll Out Solar System (CROSS)

Stable, cheap, efficient perovskite cells – can the ANU find the holy grail of solar?

Perovskites could be genuine game-changers for the solar industry – photovoltaic (PV) materials that are cheap, easy to manufacture, highly customisable and very efficient. However, current perovskite solar cells aren’t particularly stable and can’t be mass-produced on existing silicon cell production lines.

But two Australian National University (ANU) projects are aiming to change all that. Aided by $1.61 million in ARENA funding as part of a $29.22 million Solar Research and Development Funding Round that comprises 20 projects in total, the ANU projects will help create stable, low-cost and efficient perovskite cells that will push the price of solar power even lower.

Researchers at ANU are doing pioneering work with perovskite solar cells. IMAGE: ANU.

BUILDING A BETTER TANDEM CELL

Nearly all of the solar cells on the market today are made from silicon. Silicon is a great material, but its efficiency potential is limited – silicon’s chemical properties mean that it converts all colours (or wavelengths) of light into electricity at the same voltage. However, the blue parts of sunlight actually contain significantly more energy than the red parts.

We can capture more energy from the sun by putting a layer of perovskite material on top of a silicon cell and ‘tuning’ it to absorb blue light. The perovskite layer converts the high-energy blue wavelengths in sunlight into high-voltage electricity while letting the red bits pass through to the silicon cell underneath. In the industry this is known as a tandem cell.

But perovskites have a major disadvantage over silicon. “Silicon is essentially a rock,” explains Professor Kylie Catchpole, the ANU PV Lab’s resident perovskites guru. “That means you can put it out in the sun for 20 years and nothing is going to happen to it. Perovskites are easy to process at low temperatures, which is what makes them so cheap. But it also means they are not as stable.”

One of the ANU’s projects will overcome this challenge to develop a stable, mass-producible perovskite tandem cell that is more efficient than current devices.

There are a number of ways to improve the stability of perovskite cells. Adding an extra element, such as Rubidium, to the perovskite crystal structure is one method. Another relatively simple trick involves making sure the unstable compounds are encapsulated properly – an approach that has proven successful for the organic LEDs (OLEDs) used in newer device screens.

The ANU lab already holds the world record for the most efficient perovskite tandem cell. But the team plans to take that efficiency even higher by engineering the device to minimise potential losses. They will also make sure the production techniques are compatible with current large-scale manufacturing techniques.

“We’re working with Jinko Solar, a world leading manufacturer. We want to look at how silicon cells are being manufactured at the moment, and we don’t want to go too far from that process because that will introduce extra costs,” Professor Catchpole says.

If the project is successful, manufacturers like Jinko will be able to mass-produce robust and efficient perovskite solar cells by making only minor tweaks to their existing production lines.

 

TACKLING THE ELECTRODES PROBLEM
Another reason perovskite solar cells are unstable is to do with their electrodes – the metal contacts where we actually get the electrical current out of the cell.

A lot of metals either react with perovskites, which breaks down the cell’s stability quite quickly, or diffuse through the material, which degrades its stability over time.

At the moment, the most efficient perovskite cells use gold for their electrode contacts. This works well at first, but the metal eventually diffuses, rendering the cell unstable. And the high cost of gold means that improving its stability still won’t produce a commercially viable cell.

This is the problem that the ANU’s second project aims to solve. By measuring different aspects of the solar cell to determine where stability problems arise, the team will develop new types of electrodes that use cheap, stable materials.

‘You can easily get an electrode that is either low-cost, stable or highly efficient,’ Professor Catchpole says. ‘We want all three at the same time, so we’re going to need to develop a structure to achieve that. There are likely to be a few different elements working together. We’re looking at a range of materials and we’re probably looking at several layers in the structure. We expect it to be based on something like copper or aluminium.’

Prototypes of the new electrodes will be put through serious stress testing, facing temperatures of 85ºC and 85 per cent humidity to see if they remain stable under challenging environmental conditions.

The project will make a massive contribution towards commercially viable perovskite cells. ‘We’re hoping for an approach that can be applied to all types of perovskite solar cells,’ Professor Catchpole says. ‘We’d end up with stable, low-cost contacts that could replace gold and really move perovskites forward in terms of their stability problems.’

Advanced Silicon Solar Cells by DESIJN (Deposited Silicon Junctions)

A window into the future? How you might one day power your home or office

Windows have come a long way when it comes to energy efficiency. Thanks to technical advances like double-glazing and protective films, those big panes of glass embedded in our walls are no longer the inefficient heat sinks they were a couple of decades ago.

Now a project at Monash University aims to take windows one step further – using them to generate electricity to power your home or office.

It’s a technology that is mouth-wateringly exciting and which ARENA is pleased to support. And it is one that is putting us on a path to net-zero emissions buildings of the future.

A HISTORY OF SOLAR WINDOWS

Energy-generating solar windows have been around for a long time, with the first prototypes appearing in the 1980s. Since then, most commercial solar windows have been made from glass coated in amorphous silicon – a cousin of the black silicon panels found on our rooftops.

“Amorphous silicon can be made very thin and can be made so that light passes through,” explains Jacek Jasieniak, Director of the Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute. “But it’s only about 5 per cent efficient at that thickness, which means such windows don’t produce electricity very well and their cost per watt is very high.”

READ MORE: HOW AUSTRALIAN SOLAR RESEARCHERS ARE LEADING THE WORLD

A few other transparent photovoltaic (PV) materials have emerged as potential coatings for solar windows. However, they are all either too unstable, difficult to produce or, like amorphous silicon, simply not efficient enough to be commercially viable.

But that was before the discovery of perovskites. A group of low-cost and easy-to-manufacture chemical compounds, perovskites can be used to make highly efficient and extremely thin solar cells. “That means they are really interesting candidates for window applications,” Associate Professor Jasieniak says.

A shematic depiction of a semi-transparent perovskite solar cell with its crystalline structure protruding. IMAGE: Monash University.

 

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Aided by a $750,000 grant as part of ARENA’s $29.22 million solar R&D funding round, the Monash researchers are leading a project to develop a high-efficiency transparent perovskite solar cell for better PV windows. The technology is based on metal halide perovskites, which can produce functional solar cells as thin as 100 nanometres, or about one-thousandth the thickness of a human hair.

The Monash team has already set efficiency records for semi-transparent metal halide cells, but their current devices are not stable enough to be used in a real-world setting.

To overcome this limitation, Associate Professor Jasieniak and his fellow researchers will be looking at each individual layer of the cell and the places they interact, then using their expertise in materials science, PV cell design and printing to optimise the stability of the whole device.

“Eventually this type of perovskite device will be around 15 per cent efficient and significantly cheaper than current amorphous silicon technologies,” Associate Professor Jasieniak says. ‘It will create a cost-competitive option for building-integrated PV windows, which doesn’t exist at the moment.’

INDUSTRY PARTNERS

Making the cell layers thin enough to allow light through without compromising the quality of those layers is a big challenge. But Associate Professor Jasieniak is confident his team has the skills and experience to crack the problem. And when they do, they’ll have a group of industry partners lined up to take their innovation to the world.

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“We’re working with Greatcell Solar, who are currently developing opaque perovskites on glass,” Associate Professor Jasieniak says. “We’ve also got CSR Viridian on board, who are Australia’s largest glass manufacturer and supplier. And finally, we are working with CSIRO to help us with research and translation from academic through to commercial arenas.”

Collaborating with CSR Viridian is a big advantage for testing. “We’ll be making prototype double-glazed systems that we can put solar cells into to test their performance and stability on real-world windows,” Jacek says. “It’s under accelerated testing of 85 degrees and 85 per cent humidity, so it will push the absolute limits of what these solar cells will be exposed to.”

 

FUTURE DIRECTIONS

Modern buildings already use window glazing to control the amount of light that gets inside. A stable, semi-transparent solar PV coating would solve two problems at once: regulating the light that passes through a window while also generating electricity to supplement the building’s energy use.

Associate Professor Jasieniak thinks that in the future PV windows will be just one part of a home or office’s integrated light and energy management system.

“Studies in other countries have shown that you can save more than 30 per cent of a building’s energy use if you couple these types of technologies with appropriate light management systems,” he says. “If you combine building integrated PV windows with LED systems that assess actual lighting conditions I think we will be one step closer towards net–zero emission buildings.”

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The secret to a truly ‘noteworthy’ solar cell, brought to you by CSIRO

Conventional silicon solar panels are great, but they’re not particularly lightweight or portable. And while solar arrays on Aussie rooftops are a magnificent sight, they don’t always match the style of heritage-listed or architecturally significant buildings.

That’s where CSIRO’s Flexible Electronics Laboratory comes in. Based in Melbourne, the small research lab is investigating how to mass-produce lightweight, efficient solar panels by printing them on flexible plastic films.

CSIRO researchers are printing solar cells onto plastic film invented to make banknotes. IMAGE: ARENA.

 

PRINTING A SOLAR CELL

CSIRO acts as a bridge between academic scientists and manufacturers by taking lab-scale breakthroughs from other research groups and exploring ways to manufacture them at a larger scale. 

For the past ten years, the lab has been working on printed solar films – a focus inspired by a previous CSIRO innovation.

“It’s more or less the same process that is used to print plastic banknotes,” says CSIRO Manufacturing Group Leader Dr Fiona Scholes. “CSIRO played a key role in that, and the seed for working on solar films within CSIRO came from researchers that had worked on those banknotes in the past. We were able to take that pool of expertise and use it for something else.”

The solar printing process uses a large roll of PET plastic, the same stuff that makes up soft drink bottles. The thin film is fed back and forth through a printing machine, which puts down multiple layers of photovoltaic ink – often an organic compound based on carbon and hydrogen.

 

Perovskite cells are lighter and more flexible, opening the door for new applications. IMAGE: ARENA.

 

ENTER PEROVSKITES

Unfortunately, organic solar inks just aren’t very efficient compared to tried and trusted silicon. But the latest advances in perovskites have the potential to completely revolutionise the capabilities of printed solar cells.

Cheap, efficient and easy to produce, perovskites are a new type of material that has been touted as the next big thing in solar. And thanks to a $3.3 million grant as part of ARENA’s $29.22 million Solar R&D funding round, CSIRO is planning to develop printed perovskite solar modules that manufacturers will want to invest in.

“The main aim is to take those scientific breakthroughs in perovskites and make them mass-producible,” Dr Scholes says. “We’ll be looking for a robust perovskite formulation that can handle the demands of manufacturing conditions.”

By April 2021, CSIRO will have a formula and production process for stable, efficient printed perovskite cells that they can start shopping around to the industry – preferably to home-grown Aussie enterprises.

“We would love to see the outcomes of our research and the research of our colleagues end up in the hands of Australian manufacturers,” Dr Scholes says. “We want Australia to play a part in delivering this fantastic new type of solar into global supply chains.”

TESTING THE TECHNOLOGY

CSIRO has a huge advantage in the solar research space – it is also home to one of the world’s best solar PV testing facilities.  “It can provide certified results for perovskites, which is not actually that straightforward because they are a little bit finicky. So to have that capability essentially in-house is fantastic,” Dr Scholes says.

READ MORE: HOW OUR SOLAR RESEARCHERS ARE LEADING THE WORLD

The lab’s printed cells are also subjected to outdoor testing in tough Australian conditions. “The durability of these types of cells over a long time period has yet to be fully proven because they have only been around for a decade,” Dr Scholes says. “Having said that, we’ve had stuff outside for three or four summers that is still going strong. The type of plastic you use for lamination is really important, but if you get that right then they can last for a really long time.”

SERIOUS POTENTIAL

The possibilities for flexible printed solar cells are enormous. “There’s lots of potential for deployment in emergency situations or remote locations where getting a heavy bank of silicon panels could be problematic,” Dr Scholes says. “There’s also potential in rooftop installations where the structure can’t accommodate traditional solar panels because they are too heavy or the aesthetics don’t match those of the building.”

The group is currently working with an industry partner to build a 100 square metre facility with printed solar film integrated into a Colorbond-style roof. These types of roofs are often used for large-scale structures that can’t have lots of columns underneath, such as indoor sports centres, big cattle yards and aviation hangars. Huge buildings like these are ideal for massive solar arrays, but their spanned roofs can’t support traditional silicon panels.

But Dr Scholes thinks that flexible solar cells could become a feature of a building’s architecture, rather than a rooftop afterthought. “You can use the form factor to your advantage,” she says. “We would love to see printed solar films used in really creative ways – on window furnishings, laminated onto skyscrapers or as really beautiful shade structures that generate electricity as well.”

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Funding boost for world-leading solar PV research

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced it has awarded $29.2 million for 20 research projects to propel the development of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.

The funding has been offered to research teams from the University of New South Wales, Australian National University, Monash University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

ARENA’s third round of R&D funding supports early-stage research to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of solar PV, from creating flexible solar devices to making semi-transparent, high-efficiency solar cells for integrating into windows.

Most of the projects will focus on silicon technologies, as the vast majority of solar panels worldwide are currently made using silicon. Some projects will aim to develop solar cells using new materials, such as organic photovoltaics and perovskites, which would be lower cost to manufacture, printable or more sustainable.

Together with contributions from industry partners and leading institutions from Asia, Europe and the United States, total value of the projects is approximately $102 million.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said Australian innovation was already built into many silicon solar panels made globally, and this funding would accelerate solar PV technology.

“Australia is leading the world in solar PV research and development. Over the past five years, ARENA has funded breakthroughs which have helped make solar PV competitive with wind power and we want to take that even further.

“In this funding round, the candidates and the calibre was so high, we actually increased the total funding we awarded to nearly $30 million,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“This research will improve the technological and commercial readiness of new innovation in solar PV cells and modules, enhance Australia’s position as world-leaders in solar PV R&D and address Australian-specific conditions,” he said.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 147KB)

Scaling up Greatcell Solar’s game changing solar cell tech

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will provide $6 million to Greatcell Solar to accelerate development of a new printable perovskite solar cell.

In an ASX announcement, Greatcell announced the funding as part of a $17.3 million project to develop a new, world-class prototype facility to scale up fabrication of high quality, large-area perovskite devices.

Queanbeyan-based Greatcell Solar aims to commercialise its perovskite solar cells as a potential alternative to conventional silicon solar cell technology. This technology can also be applied to building materials such as glass and metal sheeting.

Ultra thin perovskite is a new solar cell material with the potential to provide lower cost solar PV cells. Perovskite solar cells have the potential to be manufactured very cheaply using common industrial processes.

The funding follows on from an earlier ARENA grant of $450,000 to demonstrate perovskite solar cells were both efficient and stable, confirming the potential viability of developing them for commercial-scale manufacture.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the technology was an advance towards the potential for ubiquitous, low cost solar.

“ARENA is excited to see the further development of Greatcell Solar’s perovskite technology. This has the potential to expand the applications for which solar can be used and to reduce costs.

“We want to move perovskites closer towards commercialisation. This will help accelerate solar PV innovation in Australia, which is one of our key priorities,” he said.

Greatcell Solar Managing Director Richard Caldwell said: “With this financial support from the Australian Government, we expect to demonstrate that perovskite solar cell technology is a strong candidate for commercialisation.

“It has the compelling attributes of lower cost and greater versatility than existing PV technologies. In particular, it is suited to real world solar conditions. In the long term, this technology has the potential to provide a cost competitive and clean energy solution,” he said.

 

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 126KB)

Ultra-thin, lightweight and printable: the solar panel of the future

 

Imagine a solar panel that’s ultra-thin and much lighter than current versions. A solar cell that could one day be flexible, bending its form to fit all manner of applications.

A solar cell that is not so much built as… printed.

It’s a vision of the future, sure, but it may not be as distant as you think. And the company behind it estimates that these emerging products could be manufactured at half the cost of current silicon photovoltaic panels.

Researchers across the world are racing to harness the potential offered by perovskite solar cells. And Australian-based Greatcell Solar is right at the forefront of this emerging form of solar technology.

The company’s plan to build a prototype perovskite solar cell (PSC) within two years is about to receive a significant boost. ARENA has committed $6.0 million to Greatcell Solar’s PSC project, contributing to a total project cost of $17.3 million.

Greatcell will use the funding to develop a prototype and construct a purpose-built facility to demonstrate that the cells can be manufactured in the size and scale required for commercial application.

“ARENA is excited to see the further development of Greatcell Solar’s perovskite technology,” ARENA Chief Executive Ivor Frischknecht says.

“We want to move perovskites closer towards commercialisation. This will help accelerate solar PV innovation in Australia, which is one of our key priorities.”

Researchers at Greatcell are working on commercialising Perovskite solar cells. IMAGE: Greatcell Solar.

 

WHAT IS A PEROVSKITE CELL?

A PSC is a type of solar cell that includes a perovskite structured compound, most commonly a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material, as the light-harvesting active layer.

Perovskite cells bring plenty of potential advantages that have led some to see them as a potential alternative or successor to current silicon-based photovoltaic cells. They offer the potential of being relatively cheap to produce and simple to manufacture.

They also have low embodied energy (which means they are not energy intensive to produce).

And they are extremely efficient at producing electricity.

Solar cell efficiencies of devices using these materials have increased from 3.8 per cent in 2009 to 22.1 per cent by early 2016, which makes PSC the the fastest-advancing solar technology on record.

 

Perovskite cells are printable using common industrial equipment. IMAGE: Greatcell.

 

LIMITLESS POSSIBILITIES

Perovskite solar cells such as those being pursued by Greatcell offer the prospect of a far simpler manufacturing process. They can effectively be ‘printed’ using industrial machinery that’s commonly available.

Greatcell is a world leader in this process.

It’s a process that’s much more specialised than the printer you might use at home but far simpler than the current way solar panels are constructed.

PSC cells can be made more easily and applied to a flexible, rather than rigid, surface. The technology can also be applied to materials such as glass and metal sheeting used in buildings.

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And while Greatcell is initially aiming to create glass-based cells for use in utility-scale solar farms, the technology being pursued by the company and by other PSC researchers around the world could ultimately lead to innovations such as transparent or flexible solar cells.

That would allow the creation of bespoke solar products that tailor their look to match the design preferences of consumers. Or more practical designs that could be embedded into the walls or roofs of buildings during construction.

The future applications of this technology are practically limitless.

Greatcell is working to make perovskite cells large enough for commercial application. IMAGE: Greatcell Solar.

WE’RE NOT THERE YET

But perovskite cells are also in their relative infancy and face challenges in creating the necessary durability to compete with existing, silicon-based solar cells.

To be competitive they must be scaleable to a similar size as standard PV panels and be capable of surviving for up to 25 years.

That’s where Greatcell comes in.

The ASX-listed company is based in Queanbeyan, NSW. It has invested more than $130 million in PSC development to date and is well-positioned as a frontrunner among the global players jostling to develop and commercialise the technology.

The new funding follows a 2015 ARENA-funded project, which tested Greatcell’s technology and found it showed strong potential to be both efficient and stable, confirming the potential viability of PSC technology for commercial-scale manufacture.

Now the company will create a prototype within two years before progressing to the next stage: pilot manufacturing. Greatcell is aiming to mass manufacture a PSC cell within 2-3 years, a timeframe that puts the company at the cutting edge of PSC research worldwide.

To do so it must demonstrate that this incredibly-promising technology can be scaled up from smaller cells that have performed well in laboratory conditions to the larger ones required for commercial application.

The project will attempt to achieve 100x scale-up to test module stability and efficiency and a 10x scale-up to test manufacturability using large area high precision coating equipment.

“We expect to demonstrate that perovskite solar cell technology is a strong candidate for commercialisation,” Greatcell Solar Managing Director Richard Caldwell says.

“It has the compelling attributes of lower cost and greater versatility than existing PV technologies. In particular, it is suited to real world solar conditions. In the long term, this technology has the potential to provide a cost competitive and clean energy solution.”

 

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