AGL and SunDrive to explore creation of solar manufacturing facility at Liddell site 

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AGL Energy, Australia’s largest coal generator, and SunDrive, an innovative solar company from Australia, have recently partnered up to explore the possibility of establishing a solar manufacturing facility at the former Liddell coal plant’s site in New South Wales’ Hunter Region.  

This collaboration was formalised through a memorandum of understanding, coinciding with the federal government’s unveiled $1 billion Solar Sunshot programme. 

The Liddell Power Station, equipped with four 500-megawatt EE steam-driven turbine alternators, had a total electrical capacity of 2,000 megawatts (2,700,000 hp). Unit 3 was retired on April 1st, 2022, followed by the decommissioning of Unit 4 on April 24th, 2023, and Unit 2 on April 26th, 2023. The final unit, Unit 1, ceased operations on April 28th, 2023. 

$1 billion government pledge to develop solar supply chain 

The Solar Sunshot programme includes a hefty $1 billion government pledge aimed at fostering the development of a solar supply chain within Australia. This support package encompasses production subsidies and grants designed to bolster the country’s solar industry. 

For AGL Energy, this partnership with SunDrive represents another strategic step in their plan to repurpose the sites of their retired Liddell coal power station and Bayswater Power Station into a comprehensive, low-carbon energy hub. 

The collaborative study with SunDrive will delve into the necessary infrastructure and engineering requirements, as well as identify the regulatory approvals and licenses needed to develop, build, and operate a large-scale solar cell manufacturing facility within the Hunter Energy Hub’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct. 

As part of this agreement, they will also explore the possibility of establishing a contract for AGL to purchase SunDrive’s solar panels, thus providing direct access to customers for these Australian-designed and manufactured PV panels through one of the nation’s largest solar distributors and installers. 

Hunter Energy Hub to play crucial role in renewable energy transition 

AGL’s managing director and CEO Damien Nicks expressed, “Our goal for the Hunter Energy Hub is to create an integrated low-carbon energy hub, following circular economy principles, by bringing together industries that can positively contribute to the energy transition.” 

Nicks further highlighted that AGL’s partnership with SunDrive holds significant potential for advancing Australia’s energy transition and could lead to the creation of new jobs and opportunities within the renewable energy sector. The consortium aims to establish a new solar manufacturing industry and hub in the NSW Upper Hunter region. 

SunDrive to scale up solar cell production line 

This collaboration between AGL and SunDrive signifies a notable leap forward in solar technology.  

Their joint efforts to explore the production of PV panels in Australia, stand in contrast to the narrative pushed by the Coalition and conservative commentators, advocating for coal-fired power stations to remain operational while awaiting potential nuclear options. 

The announcement was also made on the back of the publication of a Climate Council report, Seize the Decade, that maps out a path for Australia to deliver a 75% emissions cut below 2005 levels by 2030, and net zero by 2035. 

The report states that Australia has “no excuses” to aim lower than net zero emissions by 2035 using proven and available technologies and by setting and sticking to sensible policies. 

SunDrive, under the MoU (memorandum of understanding) with AGL, is aligning its vision with the goal of producing 5GW of Australian-made modules annually. This vision received a substantial boost in November 2023 when the federal government awarded SunDrive an $11 million grant to scale up its solar cell production line to a commercial level. 

Founded by CEO Vince Allen and backed by prominent investors including Mike Cannon-Brookes, SunDrive is at the forefront of pioneering technology that uses copper instead of silver for PV cell metallisation. This approach is poised to significantly reduce manufacturing costs for solar panels, given copper’s substantially lower cost and greater abundance compared to silver. SunDrive predicts that this transition will result in solar installation costs being 20-30% cheaper than those using other high-efficiency cells. 

Funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) from the previous year is being used to expand SunDrive’s technology from a prototype scale (1.5MW per year) to a commercial capacity exceeding 100MW annually. SunDrive acknowledges the crucial role that the Hunter Valley region plays in Australia’s renewable energy aspirations. If the feasibility study proves successful, SunDrive intends to manufacture its commercial-scale solar cells at the manufacturing facility located within AGL’s Hunter Energy Hub.  

SunDrive sets target of 5GW of Australian-made solar PV annually 

SunDrive’s ambitious plans involve constructing factories capable of producing up to 5GW of Australian-made solar PV annually, with a primary focus on the premium rooftop market. 

These plans, initially outlined in May 2023, start with a production capacity target of 1GW, concentrating on “cell metallisation” and modules. Later, a factory was built to expand total capacity to 2GW, emphasising rooftop modules and introducing cell production, including texturing and junction cells. The MoU with AGL and the new Federal Government commitments to production subsidies and grants provide a promising outlook for SunDrive’s aspirations. 

Tindo Solar, Australia’s sole PV module manufacturer, revealed plans in January 2023 to construct a “giga-factory” capable of producing up to 1.9 million panels annually, potentially starting as early as mid-2025 with appropriate government support. Richard Petterson, CEO of Tindo Solar, mentioned that preliminary discussions with potential supporters had already taken place.  

Another Australian solar innovator, 5B, expressing enthusiasm for the new federal funding, hailed it as “a very positive development” for the company and solar manufacturing as a whole. 

With AGL and SunDrive exploring the potential of manufacturing solar panels at the Liddell site, is time for your business to start looking into solar and other renewable energy sources? 

In short – yes. The Australian government is urging everyone – including businesses, to commit to a Net Zero future and mitigate further global temperature rises. Energy sources with lower emissions, such as solar and wind, are crucial in achieving the country’s Net Zero 2050 goals.  

2050 may seem like a long time coming and the benefits might appear far off. Still, the truth is that there are advantages to transitioning to solar as soon as possible, such as reduced electricity bills, possible government incentives, and even positive branding opportunities. (Learn more about transitioning to solar by reading Questions to Ask Before Commercial Solar Installation Begins.) 

Interested in determining if solar power aligns with your business’s operations and objectives? Reach out to our energy management consultants at or call us at 1300-852-770. 

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