Solar energy pioneer Scientia Professor Martin Green has become the first Australian to win a prestigious Global Energy Prize.

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.

He is also co-inventor of the laser-doped, selective emitter solar cell, used in solar panels worth more than $1 billion which were sold by the company Suntech between 2009 and 2011, and is a pioneer in the area of perovskite photocells, which he believes could be used as a supplement to silicon solar panels.

The prize for his recent award is worth more than $820,000 and will go towards his research, development and educational activities in the field of photovoltaics.

The annual Global Energy Prize honours outstanding achievements in research and technology that are addressing the world’s pressing energy challenges. It is presented each year by the President of the Russian Federation.

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”.

The enormous reductions in costs in photovoltaic solar systems in recent years is directly related to Professor Green’s 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 accounted for more than 24 per cent of the world’s silicon cell manufacturing capacity at the end of 2017. Sales of systems containing this solar cell exceeded US$10 billion in 2017 and are predicted to exceed US$1 trillion by 2040.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said “As a world-leading researcher in photovoltaics, Martin has delivered truly transformational outcomes in renewable energy for more than three decades.

“Martin is a highly deserving recipient of this global prize and we warmly congratulate him. His fundamental and applied research has transformed the global energy sector and will continue to produce major economic and social benefits, both in Australia and worldwide.”

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.

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

Professor Green said that the efficiency of solar modules is an area which has progressed more quickly than experts expected.

“We need to maintain the pace of research in Australia, not only to keep our international lead, but also to benefit society by providing a cheap, low carbon source of electricity,” said Professor Green.

“Given the quality of the candidates on the shortlist, receiving this prize is a great honour, and will spur on our efforts. I look forward to the presentation in Russia in October.”

The use of PERC solar cells (solar cells with passivated emitter and rear surface) is predicted to save at least $750 million in power production costs in Australia alone over the next decade.

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