Transformational outcomes in renewable energy: UNSW Professor Martin Green collected the Global Energy Prize.

Professor Martin Green’s achievements honored

The stellar solar cell achievements by UNSW received a great deal of attention and accolade at last week’s All Energy show. However the driving force – Professor Martin Green – was thousands of kilometers away in Moscow collecting the well-deserved Global Energy Prize.

Presented by Russia’s Minister of Energy, the award honours outstanding achievement in research and technology and is designed to address some of the world's most pressing energy challenges.

Professor Green is the first Australian to receive the prestigious Global Energy Prize. As Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW, Martin Green recognised for his research, development and educational activities in the field of photovoltaics, and honoured for having “revolutionised the efficiency and costs of solar photovoltaics, making this now the lowest cost option for bulk electricity supply”.

The outcome of his pioneering research are both widespread and profound: by creating the highest efficiency solar cells using techniques and making them accessible to the world through commercialisation, he is helping address the challenge of climate change.

Coincidentally – or should we say ironically – the ceremony took place the same week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the consequences of failing to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and the urgent need to decarbonise.

Reflecting on his award, Professor Green 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.”

He also thanked his wife for giving him the freedom to pursue his passion.

The world-leading specialist in both monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar cells is founder of the research group UNSW Engineering which 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 is directly related to Martin 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%. And in 2014, he headed the development team that first demonstrated the conversion of sunlight into electricity with an energy conversion efficiency of 40%.

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.”

He shares the prize and $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

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