Global award a ‘testament’ to Australian solar research

A research team led by Australia’s “solar superman” has won a  prestigious global engineering award in London.

“This award is testament to a lifetime of research with a view to what is possible.”

An Australian team of researchers has won recognition for its pioneering work on solar cells.

Alongside Australia’s so-called “solar superman” Professor Martin Green, Professor Andrew Blakers, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao received the 2023 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) for their research, work and development of Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) solar photovoltaic technology.

PERC technology has underpinned the recent growth of high performance, low-cost solar electricity, to harness the power of the sun. It now features in the majority of solar panels manufactured around the world.

Professor Green and his team of researchers have held solar-efficiency world records for 30 of the last 38 years.

The QEPrize is awarded each year to engineers responsible for ground-breaking innovations that have been of global benefit to humanity.

Professor Green said he hopes that winning the QEPrize will open people’s eyes to the possibilities of renewable energy.

“I am honoured to share this esteemed award with Andrew Blakers, Aihua Wang and Jianhua Zhao,” Professor Green said.

“As the world feels the devastating impacts of our changing environment and collapsing ecosystems, I feel passionately that more must be done to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and keep up with the trajectory of human civilisation,” he said.

ARENA support for solar research

Professor Green is a former director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP). He started a career in solar research in the 1970s, around the time of the oil crisis.

ARENA has since 2012 worked closely with ACAP. In 2022, ARENA boosted its funding support by $45 million. By 2030, ACAP will have received an expected total of $128.99 million in ARENA funding.

Incoming ACAP director Professor Renate Egan described the award recipients as “true pioneers in our field”.

“This award is testament to a lifetime of research with a view to what is possible, often delivering beyond expectations,” Professor Egan said.

“They continue to contribute, with Martin and Andrew playing a key role in leading research activity within ACAP, sharing their experience with the next generation of innovators,” she said.

“ARENA’s ongoing support of our work at ACAP has meant that successive generations of solar researchers have been able to work on advancing solar technologies that will make solar power even more powerful and cheaper for everyone.

“It’s exciting to imagine where our work will take us next,” Professor Egan said.

Over the past decade, QEPrize has honoured 20 engineers whose innovations have helped billions of people around the world.

The 2023 laureates will be formally honoured at the QEPrize presentation ceremony later this year. They will receive £500,000 and a unique trophy.