Almost half of the world’s solar power comes from PERC modules, which is an invention of UNSW, but solar cells are only produced by one company in Australia. Manufacturing solar cells doesn’t fit too well into Australian industry as it’s a high-volume, low-margin sort of business. This could all change, however…
Some cause for optimism
James Larratt, CEO of Solpod, believes that a slight change in the way panels are fixed to roofing could help to encourage the manufacture of panels in Australia. Solpod started out in 2019 with its redeployable racking and mounting systems for rooftop arrays.
According to Larratt, China has invested hugely in its panel industry and has taken its place as world leader in the field. However, there’s still room for Australian manufacturers on the world solar stage if they play to their specific strengths.
The huge uptake of solar panels among domestic and commercial users has led to a new – and $2 billion-plus – industry in Australia.
A gap in the market
Larratt and his Solpod co-founders saw a gap in the market for commercial and industrial site customers and installers. Most arrays have a payback period of 15 years or so, but with many commercial premises having leases of five years, companies might not be so keen to make the investment. If their panels could come with them to their next premises, that might make all the difference.
Solpod’s prefabricated racking systems are attached to roofs with clamps or tough adhesive rather than by being screwed into the roofing material. The company’s “pods” of ten PV panels can be attached to a roof with a crane in one go (as it were), rather than the installers having to fix each panel individually, which saves time and makes the arrays portable.
Lots of development happening
The last year has been a busy one, says Larratt, including product development and release of a smaller, rail-based and a ground-mounted version of their pods, and rolling out a rental offering.
Solpod has been busy since 2019, developing a smaller and rail-based pod, as well as a ground-mounted version. The company is also looking at rental offerings to customers and it’s noticed that businesses in Australia are looking for locally-made products and also trying to reduce their energy spending and emissions. This is good news for Solpod.
So far, the company has installed its pods at 25 sites in New South Wales Victoria and Queensland, including Google’s Australian HQ at Pyrmont. It’s planning to expand its operations into the US, where Larratt believes Australia’s solar reputation will help it to gain a good foothold in this burgeoning market.
Australia can enter the global solar market
As long as Australian companies stay away from panels, they can do well in the global market for solar products. Solpod’s mounting system is very innovative and fulfils a newly-arisen need for companies to be able to invest in and move their solar panels.
Larratt believes that we have more to offer a world demanding solar technologies, and we can make those here.
The country, says Larratt has a lot to offer the world when it comes to new solar tech and products. He co-founded Solpod in order to design these new products and make sure that they were made in Australia long-term rather than sent overseas so that domestic industry gets a boost.