The CEFC has invested in innovative solar energy technology with the potential to revolutionise Australia’s use of rooftop solar, delivering lightweight, flexible panels that can be used across a wider range of applications than existing glass panels.
The CEFC committed US$7 million through the Clean Energy Innovation Fund to the Sunman US$12 million Series B capital raising, alongside company founder Dr Zhengrong Shi and Southern Cross Venture Partners.
Sunman will use the capital to further develop and deploy the technology behind its innovative eArc solar panels and to optimise its installation processes.
eArc panels, made from a lightweight polymer composite material, are 70 per cent lighter than a glass panel. This makes them cheaper to transport and easier to install because they can be glued to a surface.
The flexibility of the panels means they offer multiple benefits. They can be moulded to contoured surfaces, offering potential for use beyond conventional rooftops. They can be used for mobile power generation, making them suitable for remote sites and vehicles. They can also be integrated into construction materials, to allow solar PV to be used to encase a building.
CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said: “The flexibility of the eArc panel means we can be more creative about where we install solar PV, moving beyond flat rooftops to awnings, carports, carpark canopies and building facades.
“The lighter weight of the panels also means solar can be extended across existing rooftops on factories, warehouses, garages and other structures that are not strong enough to support heavier glass panels.
“The eArc panels already power the Byron Bay solar train, after being moulded to fit its curved roof. They have also been installed at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, which had been unable to support glass panels because of the steep slope of its roof. The Museum estimates that the panels will cut its electricity bill by about $50,000 a year.”
The eArc innovation could significantly increase Australia’s rooftop solar penetration. Australia is already a world leader in solar power, with more than 2.4 million rooftop solar PV systems on residential dwellings. These have a combined generation capacity of 9.7 gigawatts.1
According to 2019 research co-developed by the CEFC, Australia is using less than five per cent of its capacity for rooftop solar.2 Much of this untapped potential is in commercial and industrial sites, which have an estimated capacity of 28 GW of rooftop solar.
The technology behind the eArc panel is the invention of solar energy entrepreneur DrShi, a pioneer of photovoltaics and a graduate of the UNSW School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering. In 2000, Dr Shi founded Suntech Power, which grew to be the world’s largest producer of solar panels.
“Sunman is excited to work with the CEFC to increase Australia’s solar panel uptake,” Dr Shi said.
“The efficiency, quality, durability and cost of the eArc panels gives them a competitive edge over similar products on the market. The next frontier is to deliver on their potential to encase the exterior of a building by integrating the technology into construction material.
“The CEFC support will enable us to realise this long-term vision and transform the way we use solar panels.”
Mr Learmonth added: “Decarbonising Australia’s energy sector is critical to our continued transition to a low emissions economy. A much wider rollout of solar PV can accelerate our efforts to reduce emissions by harnessing more of our abundant solar resources.
“Australians continue to recognise the benefits of solar PV. Installed capacity rose by 41 per cent in the second quarter compared with the same period a year ago, despite the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.3 If we can continue to open up new avenues for installation, backed by innovative technology, more people will switch to solar for their energy needs.”
The Clean Energy Innovation Fund is Australia’s largest dedicated cleantech investor, drawing on AU$200 million in CEFC finance to invest in early-stage clean technology companies.
Sunman is a technology company founded by a group of industry veterans delivering the future of Solar. Through the research and development of composite materials, Sunman has successfully commercialized the world’s first glass-free, lightweight and flexible Panel -eArc. Replacing glass completely, eArc brings solar power to markets and applications scenarios that were previously impossible.