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New blueprint for jobs and prosperity in Australia’s solar future

The Australian Silicon Action Plan report published by CSIRO has laid out a path for Australia to become a jobs powerhouse in the solar revolution.

The Australian Silicon Action Plan report published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, has laid out a path for Australia to become a jobs powerhouse in the solar revolution.

Australia can become a global superpower in solar PV energy generation and export, but it must develop its own fully integrated domestic solar supply chains to do so, according to the report.

The Australian Silicon Action Plan sets out the actions Australia needs to take to participate in a fully-fledged supply chain for silicon and solar cells – a critical step towards energy security and independence, which will also support economic growth and jobs across Australia’s regions and cities.

The report is authored by PwC Australia, commissioned by CSIRO, and finds that while Australia has great potential when it comes to the leading role it can play in the energy transition, its reliance on overseas supply chains risks holding us back.

The Australian Government has identified silicon as a critical mineral, given its current supply chain risks and its importance to new economy technologies such as solar cells, semiconductors (chips), optical fibres, aluminium alloys, and its potential use in energy storage batteries. Silicon is abundant in Australia in the form of quartz, but it is the process of smelting quartz to silicon, then to high purity silicon that requires attention.

“Australia already has the highest per capita deployment of rooftop solar in the world, and there are several mega-projects in the solar development pipeline,” said CSIRO senior principal research scientist Dr Chris Vernon.

“But one of the greatest risks to Australia’s solar ambitions and energy future is our reliance on overseas supply chains for solar cell technology,” Vernon said.

According to the report, increasing production of silicon in Australia is the first step for Australia to develop its own capability and capacity in the solar cell supply chain.

“Energy independence should be a top priority for Australia. The increasing pace of the energy transition and ever-increasing international demand for solar PV, combined with an ever-present focus on ESG issues, highlights the fragility of our current supply chains, and makes the pursuit of energy independence all the more important,” added Vernon.

Demand for solar power and current supply chain dynamics means Australia must grasp the opportunity now

Between 2021 and 2050, solar PV’s contribution to the energy mix in Australia is expected to increase from 12 per cent to approximately 50 per cent, while according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, estimated annual global solar power generation capacity must increase more than five-fold by 2030, and 14-fold by 2050 to stay on track for net-zero targets.

To keep pace with these solar capacity forecasts, annual global production of silicon and its purified form – polysilicon – will have to materially increase.

Around 70 per cent of silicon is produced in China, while China also dominates the production of polysilicon. The conversion of polysilicon to solar cells is even more concentrated, with China accounting for between 75 per cent and 97 per cent of these stages of production.

“Australia has enormous potential when it comes to supplying solar power for its own and also the region’s energy needs, but our current reliance on concentrated silicon and solar cell supply chains poses risks to Australia’s energy independence,” Vernon said.

“The Australian Silicon Action Plan suggests a pathway for the creation of an industry that has the potential to provide employment and reskilling opportunities, the delivery of significant economic benefits that come from adding value to Australia’s mineral endowment, development of new industries in regional Australia with the world’s best ESG standards, all while improving Australia’s energy security and independence.

“This vision will not be achieved without a high level of collaboration between all stakeholders, from miners and refiners to state and federal governments, to R&D providers, to the manufacturing industry,” Vernon concluded.

The Australian Silicon Action Plan can be downloaded by clicking here.

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