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Dr Zhengrong Shi explains eArc super panels

The Green Files is a unique CEFC series where we talk to the people making a difference in the race to net zero emissions. 

29 June 2021

Investing for innovation in energy

In 1988 when Dr Zhengrong Shi was a PhD student at the University of NSW, he worked with the renowned Professor Martin Green to pioneer the world’s first thin film silicon solar technology. Now, more than 30 years later, Dr Shi is taking his original innovation to the next level with the revolutionary eArc panel.

Brought to market by Dr Shi’s business, Sunman, the eArc panel is every bit as efficient as conventional solar panels – but around 70 per cent lighter, and far more flexible. This was made possible by replacing glass with a new encapsulation material that’s primarily polymer.

At first people were worried about the durability and lifetime of this material. But as I reminded them, aircraft shells are around 50 per cent polymer. It’s actually extremely strong and durable and can perform for many years in the harshest conditions.
Dr Zhengrong Shi
Founder, Sunman
Panels for almost any surface

The eArc panel is ideal for buildings that can’t support the weight of conventional solar panels. Check out the curved roof atop the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, where eArc panels are already reducing the power bill by an estimated $50,000 a year. The eArc is also proving to be a perfect fit for curved and temporary structures. In fact, with the eArc, almost any surface can take on solar panels, from warehouses and awnings, to building facades and site sheds. In the iconic Byron Bay, the eArc is even powering the world’s first solar train. The applications are, quite simply, endless.

The eArc’s potential was very much apparent to the CEFC, which invested US$7 million in Sunman via the Clean Energy Innovation Fund in November 2020.

We’re always looking for commercially attractive, innovative new technologies. While the adoption of rooftop solar continues to grow in Australia, there is still enormous untapped growth potential. The Sunman technology will allow for a much wider rollout of solar panels, accelerating our efforts to reduce emissions in Australia, and further capturing the power of the strong Australian sunshine
Ian Learmonth
Chance meeting spurred solar success

When reflecting on the future of Sunman, Dr Shi is excited about the possibilities – however he admits that his success as an entrepreneur wasn’t strictly planned. “You know, some things in your life, they just happen,” says Dr Shi. “I was studying physics when I met Professor Martin Green. If it hadn’t been for that encounter, I may never have moved into solar. I never aspired to be a CEO… I was perfectly happy working as a Technology Director back at Pacific Solar! But I was presented with unique opportunities and encouragement from investors. And here we are.”

When asked what he’d tell entrepreneurs with aspirations in the cleantech space, Dr Shi is pragmatic. “I think it’s essential for scientists to be able to convert inventions into something that’s commercially viable.

You need to balance your vision and excitement with reality. That means asking yourself, how long will this actually take? What will the market look like then? How much money will I need? Because the power of innovation comes when we can put it into practice.
Dr Zhengrong Shi
Founder, Sunman

Learn more about Sunman

Last updated June 2021. Climate tech, The Green Files
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