Solar Start-Up SunDrive, Founded in Maroubra, Sets New World Record

SunDrive, the solar company established by two innovative UNSW graduates at a Maroubra garage, has set a new world record for efficiency which was previously held for years by Longi Green Energy Technology Co, a solar power giant from China. 

In a post on Twitter, SunDrive announced a new world record of 25.54 percent efficiency for a commercial-size silicon solar cell. Its claim was tested by the Institute for Solar Energy Research in Hamlin, Germany and acknowledged by China’s PV-Tech

Cannon-Brookes also confirmed SunDrive’s big news on Twitter.

“This little Aussie startup just set the world record for panel efficiency,” he wrote. “This is a big deal on the world stage – and it came from some super smart people in a small Sydney garage. Copper is the way.” 

The next move for SunDrive is to prove that their invention could be mass-produced affordably whilst retaining reliability and efficiency.

Formed by Vince Allen and David Hu in 2015, SunDrive has developed as a more cost-efficient solar cell, using copper instead of silver. The company has since received support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes to upgrade its operations.  

“It’s fantastic to see an Australian solar startup at the forefront of producing the next generation of high-efficiency solar cells,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said after announcing its support for SunDrive.

“Through technological innovations from startups like SunDrive, Australia will remain at the forefront of solar innovation and research and development for years to come.” 

“With ARENA’s support, we feel incredibly proud to be in a position to contribute to Australia’s rich heritage of advancing solar cell technology. With this project we have an opportunity in Australia to lead the world in creating the best version of next-generation solar cells,” Allen said. 

“Our goal is to use the learnings from this project to bring to life a superior solar technology, creating new local industries which can compete on the global stage.”

SunDrive: Solar Panel Inventor, With Roots in Maroubra, Secures $8 Million Funding

Former university roommates David Hu and Vince Allen started building the early versions of their solar power technology at a garage in Maroubra in 2015. Five years later, the partners have scored $8 million in funding to make efficient renewable power commercially available under their now-flourishing company, SunDrive.

Leading capitalists Blackbird Ventures and Grok Ventures led the funding round to help Mr Hu and Mr Allen expand their invention to develop more affordable cells. After securing $5 million from the investors, SunDrive also received a $3 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). 

SunDrive is working to drive down the costs of solar panels whilst improving its energy efficiency and conserving silver resources. Mr Allen, who has a Ph.D. in solar power at the University of New South Wales, developed a way to replace the panel’s silver electrodes with copper. 

As demand for solar power rises, Mr Allen and Mr Hu don’t see silver as a sustainable option because it is expensive and could soon be depleted given the demand. On the other hand, copper is more abundant and available and has more efficient electrodes than silver.

But the technology to ensure that the copper sticks to the silicon onto the solar panel plates was not yet developed until SunDrive came along. The company will use the funding to perfect this technology and sell cost-effective solar panels. 

Photo Credit: Instagram

Mr Hu projects that their product will be ready for the market in two and a half years as great ideas need time for enhancements. 

From the garage in Maroubra to a workspace in Wollongong with a team of six, SunDrive will be relocating to Kirrawee with 16 staff.