Thursday, July 18, 2024

What’s in the budget for businesses? A lot, for those who can engineer a ‘Future Made in Australia’

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Sydney-based SunDrive is one of the big winners of a budget that is investing major money into a “Future Made in Australia”.

The solar panel start-up has a new technology that replaces expensive silver with cheaper copper in a high-efficiency solar panel, developed from research done at UNSW.

But unlike previous Australian solar technology advances, which powered China’s dominance in producing panels, SunDrive’s founders want to manufacture at least some of their product onshore.

“Australia has led the world in solar innovation — today’s commercial solar cells were invented in Australia, Australia has held the world record efficiency for 30 of the last 40 years,” SunDrive CEO Vince Allen said.

“However, very little of the economic value that has been produced has been captured in Australia from its solar R&D efforts.

“Last year, about $50 billion worth of solar panels were made around the world, but very little of that has been captured in Australia.”

SunDrive is proving the scalability of its new solar panel at this factory in southern Sydney before embarking on full-scale manufacturing in the Hunter region of NSW.(ABC News: Nadia Daly)

The Albanese government is trying to change that with an $835.6 million investment over the next decade and $66.8 million per year from 2034-35 to 2036-37 to establish the Solar Sunshot program administered by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

It’s just one component of the federal government’s $22.7 billion Future Made in Australia program, which Treasurer Jim Chalmers said in his budget speech is intended to make the nation “an indispensable part of the global economy”.

Mr Allen said the billion-dollar investment is enough to kick-start the local solar panel industry.

“Australia can produce better solar products using its strength in solar innovation, and we can make these products and export them all around the world,” he argued.

SunDrive CEO Vince Allen speaks to ABC's The Business in the company's test factory.

SunDrive CEO Vince Allen told The Business that he is very happy with the support the solar panel start-up has received from the Albanese government.(ABC News: Daniel Irvine)

Green hydrogen and critical minerals win big

David Christensen is the managing director of graphite miner Renascor.

Like SunDrive, Renascor has already been announced as a recipient of government funding, in its case as a critical minerals producer — a sector budgeted to see at least $7 billion in government assistance over the next 11 years and billions more in the years beyond that.

Renascor managing director David Christensen sits in an office with a window behind.

Renascor managing director David Christensen says the government support for his firm has been very welcome.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

“What we’re really hoping to see is further initiatives like the critical minerals facility, that’ll allow Australia not just to do the mining but to move one step further, value-add, and build into this growing industry,” he told The Business.

“So that we’re not just mining a project, but we’re refining it and we’re doing more technical development work and really becoming an advanced manufacturing base in an emerging industry.”

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