UNSW solar expert awarded Global Energy Prize

Professor Martin Green with his Global Energy Prize

UNSW Sydney Professor Martin Green has become the first Australian to receive the prestigious Global Energy Prize in a ceremony in Moscow last night.

Known as the “father of photovoltaics”, he was recognised for his research, development and educational activities in his field.

Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak presented the annual prize to Professor Green.

Reflecting on his award, Professor Green thanked his wife, “…my own renewable resource” for giving him the freedom to pursue his passion.

He also paid tribute to the “thousands of solar researchers who have worked in the field for many years, including those at UNSW and elsewhere who have helped not just make PERC [solar cells] a reality, but also to bring it to market and to have driven such scale.”

Professor Green, who is Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW, was honoured for having “revolutionised the efficiency and costs of solar photovoltaics, making this now the lowest cost option for bulk electricity supply”.

He shares the prize and RUB 39 million ($820,000) prize money with Russian scientist Sergey Alekseenko, an expert in thermal power engineering.

They were selected from 44 contenders from 14 countries by a committee of leading scientists.

The prize is rated as one of the world’s 99 major science awards by IREG List of International Academic Awards with a reputation score of 0.48 (a Nobel Prize has a score of 1.0).

The ten finalists this year included businessman and engineer Elon Musk.

Professor Green is a world-leading specialist in both monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar cells, and the research group he founded in UNSW Engineering is the largest and best-known university-based photovoltaic research group in the world.

The reductions in costs in photovoltaic solar systems in recent years are directly related to his scientific efforts, largely through the work of his students in establishing manufacturing centres in Asia.

His record-breaking achievements stretch across decades. In 1989, his team supplied the solar cells for the first photovoltaic system with an energy conversion efficiency of 20 per cent.

And in 2014, he headed the development team that first demonstrated the conversion of sunlight into electricity with an energy conversion efficiency of 40 per cent.

Among his many breakthroughs, he invented the PERC solar cell, which accounts for at least a quarter of the world solar cell manufacturing capacity and has a rapidly increasing market share due to its greater efficiency over other types of cells.

PERC solar cells are now becoming a commercial standard throughout the world, with sales exceeding US$10 billion in 2017 and predicted to exceed US$1 trillion by 2040.

“The time of solar has arrived and this is good news for the world,” Professor Green said in his acceptance speech.

“The PERC cells pioneered by UNSW now reflect 50 per cent of world production. During that time, we’ve seen solar move from expensive energy to inexpensive energy.

“Our work on PERC has driven that.”

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs congratulated Professor Green on his achievement.

“This award cements Martin’s position as the leading photovoltaics researcher in the world,” he said.

“His work has delivered transformational outcomes in renewable energy for more than three decades and will continue to produce major economic and social benefits. This honour is as exceptional as it is fitting and we warmly congratulate him.”

UNSW Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman said the global impact of the work of Martin and his research team has been profound.

“They have created the highest efficiency solar cells using techniques that have made them accessible to the world through commercialisation. And all of this has been achieved in Australia,” Professor Hoffman said.

“We are proud of Martin’s inspiration leadership and pioneering research which is helping address the challenge of climate change.”