Martin Green – Australia’s “father of PV” – beats Elon Musk to Global Energy Prize

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UNSW’s Martin Green beats Elon Musk for major energy prize for his work in revolutionising efficiency and helping make solar PV cheapest energy option.

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Australia’s “father of PV,” UNSW Scientia Professor Martin Green, has been awarded the 2018 Global Energy Prize, beating out a shortlist that included Tesla’s Elon Musk, and becoming the first Australian to win the $820,000 gong.

The University of New South Wales said on Thursday that Professor Green had been selected from 44 contenders from 14 countries by a committee of leading scientists, to share the prize with Russian scientist Sergey Alekseenko, an expert in thermal power engineering.

Green was honoured, UNSW said, for revolutionising the efficiency and cost of solar photovoltaics and making it the lowest cost option for bulk electricity supply.

And rightly so – Professor Green, who is Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW, is a world-renowned as a leading specialist in both monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar cells.

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 efficiency of 40 per cent.

Professor Green also 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.

On top of all that, the research group he founded at UNSW – the largest and best-known university-based PV research group in the world – is broadly credited with driving the enormous reductions in costs in solar PV, largely through the work of his students in establishing manufacturing centres in Asia.

“Not everyone would agree with that attribution,” said Green in an interview with RE on Friday – adding that Tesla’s Musk would have been his pick for the prize, for his crucial work of putting electric vehicles on the agenda.

And the Professor was keen to pay tribute to his UNSW solar stablemates, Zhengrong Shi, who left Australia to form Suntech Power in the US; and Stuart Wenham – the “Einstein” of the solar world, who died, aged just 60, in December last year.

“In particular, Stuart created this computer program that was a virtual production line,” Green told RE. “That overcame the language barrier in training hoards of Chinese engineers in setting up these (solar PV) production lines.”

Some 15 to 20 years later, and the global growth of solar PV – now the cheapest new form of energy generation – has soared beyond virtually all predictions.

“If you look at the figures from the last few years growth has consistently stayed at around 40 per cent a year,” Green said.

“If it keeps growing at that rate, we’re looking at hitting a terawatt of solar production in 2024.

“Even if it slows to growth of 20 per cent a year, we are on track to reach production levels of a TW a year in the late 2020s.

“And that’s the area where you can really start cutting greenhouse gases.”

And that’s what it’s all about – a cheap transition that does not cost more than business as usual, in fact will likely deliver savings – although some people, and some governments, prefer to remain none the wiser.

Which is why awards like this one are so important.

“I think (this is) a good opportunity to get across the message that things have changed with solar and that it’s the best option out there,” Green said.

“That’s an important message to get out.

“There’s a growing consensus that we’re going to get most of our energy out of solar down the track.

“It’s not a matter having to help solar along. It’s not about removing the last remaining barriers – and getting out of the way of (renewable energy),” he said.

Green said removing barriers often meant changing regulations to make them consistent with a solar type of future, as well as overcoming political resistance in places like Australia and the US.

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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28 Comments
  1. Pedro 6 months ago

    Isn’t it amazing that that Professor Martin Green and the team at UNSW have pioneered the development of high efficiency PV and crucially bringing down the cost of production, that has led the global Solar PV energy revolution. Even more stunning is that Australia has spectacularly missed out in manufacturing any significant amount of PV globally. We have our far sited and innovative political parties in Australia to thank for that. There needs to be a prize for monumental squandering of opportunity.

    Australia is currently a world leader in quantum computing and pretty high up there with carbon nano technology. We will be buying it all from China in 10 years time and will not manage to make a cracker out of it.

    • MaxG 6 months ago

      Even more amazing: the public money used to fund the research will not return to the tax payer… hooray, neoliberalism at work: publicise cost, privatise profits.

    • EVcine 6 months ago

      I am sorry to say that Aussie voters have much to answer for. Look at South Australia’s Jay Weatherfill he was in mid-stream of doing with great projects with Elon Musk and other partners. He got voted out in favour of the worst kind of typical anti-innovation business as usual tosser.

      • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

        sheeple are dumb

    • DavidSG 6 months ago

      Also, we think we are smart because we sell education to foreigners so they can out-compete us.

    • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

      Steve Ciobo and Frydenberg are representative of the latest wave of crooks, using politics to further themselves in the world franchise know as the UN, that either make money from goods leaving Australia or coming into Australia … like the troll on the bridge, and stopping everything else.

      • occams 6 months ago

        The UN is the most powerful force for peace and prosperity on Earth.

        • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

          you are what’s wrong with the world, ‘accepting and internalizing indoctrination’ … very sad

      • Alastair Leith 6 months ago

        Frydenberg and Ciobo have very little to do with the UN and the UN has very little to do with trade tariffs. You talk about “sheeple”, then mouth off nonsensical popularism. LOL

        • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

          and Alastair Leith has very little to do with intelligence, comes across as a LNP lackey … and likely to suggest global warming is not influenced by humans, that Australia’s emissions are inconsequential in the grander scheme of things; that two fools (from Tamworth and Lambeth), could have such detrimental effects on Australians in general

          • Alastair Leith 6 months ago

            Nice one Daniel, you must be a movement builder if you behave like this. (Yep, sarcasm is all you get after that comment). Ask anybody who’s been on these RenewEconomy pages for a few years my positions on anything. I’ve done thousands of hours of unpaid work on climate and clean energy issues through several groups including one I co-founded, RenewWA.

          • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

            au contraire … you are definitely a ‘movement builder’, you’re giving me the shits …
            do you know what I was referring to, about two dolts and their environmental impact/s?
            “thousands of hours unpaid work” … hmm, really?
            how old are you? (don’t need the info); did my first energy efficient house (designed and built) in ’84; wrote a guide on ‘energy efficient hose design’ accredited by the then ATAA as part of the AGO … (where ReNew started getting traction outside the permaculture click) …
            advised local, state and federal governments to change building requirements, bagged the BCA energy rating system, but my lack of paperwork (Uni) proved I didn’t know what I was talking about … until redemption (cue the crickets), ABC TV &.30 Report April 26 2011.
            But by all means, school me; I acknowledge (after some 35 years in the science of energy efficiencies and utilsing thermal characteristics of building materials and embodied energy), I still know little
            Fortuitous, fate, that our paths would cross and you could take me under your wing

          • Alastair Leith 6 months ago

            Not questioning your experience as a builder/designer Daniel, questioning your use of language. Knock yourself out. No need to continue this conversation from my perspective.

          • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

            no, you questioned my referencing the (very real) connection and (still) refused to acknowledge that referencing …

          • Alastair Leith 6 months ago

            “no, you questioned my referencing the (very real)… connection and (still) refused to acknowledge that referencing …”

            Barely even makes sense, Daniel. What very real connection is there b/w Frydenberg and the UN? You have said nothing to support this (weird) claim. Also your animosity towards the UN is unsubstantiated, as yet. Not that everything UN does is positive, but it is what it is a collective of nation states trying to make decisions about global issues, often compromised by implicate divisions within. Until you put that on the table you’re talking at cross purposes to my initial comment.

            “you are what’s wrong with the world, ‘accepting and internalizing indoctrination’ … very sad” towards @occams, .

          • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

            makes a lot of sense; you’re of the hanson / malcolm roberts voter ilk, claiming superiority … wanting someone to run around to address your ignorance …. get off your fat self-involved backside … none so blind than those who choose not to see .. Google ‘willful blindness’ while you’re at it .. and don’t respond with some shallow comments

    • solarguy 6 months ago

      Yep, it’s akin to teaching a man to fish, then buying his catch instead fishing for yourself. When in the hell is this country going to wake up?

      Tindo, the only Ozzie manufacturer could possibly match the Chines made panels in price and better in quality, if only the investment and the orders were there.

    • Alastair Leith 6 months ago

      Howard was bemoaning the “fact” that Australian science is not commercialised enough the way it is in USA for his entire term as PM, meanwhile this technology walked to China under his watch. Fact is USA invests heavily in commercialising their science work. Not just in the military industrial complex, but in energy and many other fields of research.

    • Barri Mundee 6 months ago

      I would substitute words such as appalling, stupid and discouraging for amazing, Pedro.

  2. Tom 6 months ago

    Well deserved

  3. Carl Raymond S 6 months ago

    Next mission for Martin Green – invent a politician with vision.

    • Daniel Boon 6 months ago

      not while the rigged system facilitates political party pre-selection processes

    • Alastair Leith 6 months ago

      Global vision not a self-absorbed, egocentric vision so familiar with some politicians on both sides of the chambers.

  4. GlennTamblyn 6 months ago

    Sometimes heroes come in the most unlikely guises. “Professor Green, what do you do?”. “I make little packets of silicon and teach Chinese folks how to do the same”.

  5. Tim Buckley 6 months ago

    Congratulations to Professor Martin Green – a great and deserving recognition to an Australian scientist who for decades has contributed so much to the global energy market transformation.

  6. Daniel Boon 6 months ago

    the pervasive rot that is Australian politics is a sliver of the same cancerous rot that is America, that sees a man who re-badges another company’s product, has stitched up solar consumers in his adopted country, yet, somehow, is in the running for any sort of PV award

  7. IT67 6 months ago

    This story now picked up and published by the Guardian – well done Sophie (and Prof Green of course) 🙂

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/09/move-over-elon-global-energy-prize-goes-to-australias-solar-guru

  8. Robert Comerford 6 months ago

    Well done Green and team, pity it all goes to China.

Comments are closed.