Australian solar expert awarded Global Energy Prize

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Martin Green, a Professor at UNSW Sydney, has become the first Australian to win the Global Energy Prize for his research, development and education in the field of photovoltaics.

The annual Global Energy Prize was presented to Professor Green by Russian Minister of Energy, Alexander Novak, in Moscow, Russia. The award honours outstanding achievement in research and technology and is designed to address some of the world’s most pressing energy challenges.

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 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 RUB39 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 the 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 enormous 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. 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’s 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 $US10 billion in 2017 and predicted to exceed $US1 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.”

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