The Australian Government has invested $1.6 million in a world-first project to create printed solar panels, intended to make energy production cheaper.

The initiative will see CSIRO join forces with two Australian companies to create unique technology that can integrate printed solar cells into building products, such as roofs.

The partnership could lead to a commercial operation within a few years, creating jobs and boosting export potential.

New South Wales-based start-up, Solafast, and high-tech Melbourne printing company, Norwood, are the other partners working on the innovative project.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt, said, “This is an extremely exciting project which sees science partnering with industry to create jobs and growth potential for Australia.”

Printed solar cells are made by printing ‘solar inks’ onto rolls of plastic film using industrial printing equipment. The resulting solar panels are thin, flexible and lightweight, so they can be incorporated into objects and structures in ways that conventional solar panels can’t.

“If successful, the two-year project will help to slash the cost of solar PV and create an environmentally responsible building material that doesn’t compromise architectural integrity,” Mr Hunt said.

Australia leads the world in the uptake of domestic solar systems, with around 15 per cent of homes installing them.

At present, the commercial sector remains a largely untapped market, due to expense, safety risk and difficulty of installing current systems.

“By supporting this project, the Turnbull Government is helping Australian industry take advantage of Australia’s commercial solar market, which is estimated to be worth $250 million a year,” Mr Hunt said.

In addition to the commercial solar market in Australia, the global market for printed electronics more broadly is expected to be worth $40 billion a year by 2020, presenting another opportunity for industry.

CSIRO Industrial Innovation’s group leader, Dr Fiona Scholes, said each partner brought something important to the mix.

“CSIRO provides the solar know-how while Norwood can take our printed electronics into the mainstream and create large-scale industrial volumes,” Dr Scholes said.

“Solafast’s innovative steel roll-forming technology completes the picture, allowing the solar cells to be incorporated into roof and external cladding products.”

The government’s funding was provided through the new CRC Projects (CRC-P) initiative as part of the Cooperative Research Centres Programme, which supports industry-led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community.

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