Maritime Museum installs novel lightweight solar solution

Monday, 19 August, 2019


A 235 kW array of 812 solar panels has been installed at the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Wharf 7 Heritage Centre in Pyrmont, Sydney, estimated to reduce the museum’s electricity consumption by about 25%.

The building’s weight constraints and roof pitch meant that conventional solar panels could not be used. But this year, the museum was able to overcome these structural and engineering challenges thanks to novel solar solution eArche, a lightweight, flexible solar panel technology developed by Australian solar company Energus.

Maritime Museum Director and CEO Kevin Sumption said the museum had been exploring installing solar panels to Wharf 7 for several years, but found conventional solar panels were too heavy and rigid.

“We came across a unique glass-free solar panel from SunMan. The 5.5 kg lightweight panels could overcome the building’s structural challenges and also have the same power output as 20 kg conventional panels,” he said.

Made from a polymer composite material, the glass-free PV panels can be fitted on any surface, including curved surfaces. Being 70% lighter than conventional solar panels, eArche can be fitted to roofs with load-bearing constraints without compromising energy generation capacity.

Energus/SunMan founder Dr Zhengrong Shi said, “When I developed eArche, I knew it could unlock the potential for solar on buildings which were previously unable to support conventional glass solar panels.

“eArche’s lightweight, flexibility, high performance and competitive costs means that solar can now be applied to any building design,” Dr Shi said.

The museum’s solar panel installation was made possible by a $13.9 million grant from the federal government’s Public Service Modernisation Fund for sustainability projects. The Southern Cross Renewable Energy Fund, supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), provided a $6.6 million investment into SunMan Energy (parent company of Energus) to develop the panels. ARENA and the fund’s co-investor, Softbank China Venture Capital, have each contributed $3.3 million to the fund’s investment.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said eArche opens up solar PV technology for new applications. “The solar technology created by SunMan is an innovative and versatile alternative that can help to incorporate solar into buildings, making solar a key part of the building process, and allowing solar to be installed on curved surfaces or heritage buildings.

“The Southern Cross Renewable Energy Fund challenges companies and entrepreneurs to think outside the box and SunMan has achieved this,” Miller said.

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