UNSW professor wins prestigious prize

Wednesday, 20 December, 2023

UNSW professor wins prestigious prize

Scientia Professor Martin Green, UNSW Sydney silicon solar cell specialist, has won the 2023 Leigh Ann Conn Prize for Renewable Energy. This prize is awarded by the University of Louisville in the United States for outstanding renewable energy ideas and achievements with proven global impact.

Green, who has been described as the “father of modern photovoltaics”, has been recognised for his pioneering and groundbreaking achievements in high efficiency silicon photovoltaics (converting light into electricity), as well as leading the invention and development of the passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) solar cells. He conceived the idea for PERC in 1983.

PERC technology improved the quality of the top and rear surfaces of standard silicon solar cells, resulting in greater and more efficient energy generation. This allowed more electricity to be generated from sunlight, lowering costs and increasing the adoption of sustainable solar energy worldwide.

The technology helped increase the conversion efficiency of standard solar cells by over 50% in relative terms, from 16.5% in the early 1980s to 25% in the early 2000s. Green and his team at UNSW have held the record for silicon cell efficiency for 30 of the past 40 years, through successive improvements to cell design and fabrication.

“From the start of my career, I was determined to do something that would make a difference in the world. I am very proud that, through the efforts of my team and countless others, we now have low-cost solar as a means for reducing the impact of climate change while, at the same time, reducing the cost of energy generation, something not widely thought possible only a decade ago,” Green said.

By developing this technology at UNSW, Green was able to train and support a generation of students who applied their skills to establish solar cell manufacturing in Asia.

PERC is currently dominant in solar cell production worldwide. Together with Tunnel Oxide Passivated Contact (TOPCon) cells, first demonstrated by Green’s UNSW research group, the cells account for over 90% of the solar cells manufactured in the world today, with a sales value exceeding US$100 billion (AU$149 billion).

Professor George Williams, UNSW acting Vice-Chancellor and President, said, “Martin is a brilliant engineer whose leadership and accomplishments have led to the creation and development of the world’s solar manufacturing industry. His life’s work benefits people around the globe every day and is arguably our biggest weapon to combat global warming and climate change. Everyone at UNSW is proud to celebrate this well-deserved honour with him.”

Green will give a public lecture in Louisville in March 2024 about his award-winning work and achievements. He will receive the Conn Prize medal and US$50,000 (AU$74,000) prize at a formal ceremony.

The award will be conferred by Kim Schatzel, University of Louisville President.

“Professor Martin Green is a true pioneer in the field of photovoltaics. His work in solar cell technology is of great importance worldwide, and it is an honour to bestow upon him the Leigh Ann Conn Prize,” Schatzel said.

The University of Louisville prize is named for the late daughter of Hank and Rebecca Conn, who were university alumni, supporters and the prize benefactors. Their vision to create a legacy in honour of Leigh Ann celebrates scientists with the fortitude, patience and resiliency to produce renewable energy technology innovation and translate it into the marketplace, where impact occurs.

Image credit: UNSW/Richard Freeman

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