Investment in solar a sure bet says Chinese pioneer

Published 17 October 2017

There is political debate around the future of renewable energy, but solar and wind power are already an excellent investment and will only improve, a Chinese solar pioneer said during a recent visit to the University of New England (UNE).

Dr Zhengrong Shi, founder of Suntech, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) panels, was at UNE discussing the intersection between solar energy and technologies to boost agricultural production.

Rooftop solar in Armidale is currently capable of producing electricity at a cost of about 10 cents per kilowatt, Dr Shi observed.

“From an investment point of view, you are talking about a 20 per cent annual return from solar panels,” he said.

That investment will be even stronger as the cost of battery storage goes down — which Dr Shi expects to happen very quickly, based on government policies favouring electric vehicles.

China plans to replace all fossil fuel-powered private cars with electric vehicles over the next decade.

“This massive deployment of electric cars represents a massive production of lithium ion batteries, which quickly brings the cost per unit down,” Dr Shi said.

“I believe that in three years time, levelised cost of electricity from lithium ion batteries will be in the order of 15 cents a kilowatt. So if you are using solar to charge your batteries for free, the cost of battery storage becomes very competitive.”

An inventor, scholar and entrepreneur, Dr Shi was introduced to UNE when he shared his insights on the future of energy with UNE Business students on tour in Shanghai last year.

Dr Shi also has a personal interest in sustainable agriculture.

“Australia should be the best place on Earth to provide food in a sustainable way,” he said.

His visit to UNE followed his acceptance of an invitation from Dr Lou Conway, Partnerships and Business Development Manager with the UNE Business School, to visit the University and hear first-hand about the developments in renewable energy and agtech in the New England. 

Dr Shi sat in on several discussions hosted by the UNE SMART Region Incubator in which the opportunities for linking SMART farming and renewable energies were assessed. 

Researchers and start-up entrepreneurs shared their work with Dr Shi, and where they see future opportunities for linkages between renewables and agtech.

“We were privileged to have someone of Dr Shi’s experience and knowledge visit us and share some of his insights,” Dr Conway said.

“He left very interested in the potential for renewable technologies to support the agtech revolution, and we hope that we can build further alliances with him around this area.”

PhotoUNE Business School Partnerships and Business Development Manager Lou Conway with Dr Zhengrong Shi, founder of Suntech, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels.