- UNSW’s Prof Martin Green, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao and ANU’s Prof Andrew Blakers have won 2023 QEPrize
- The award is a recognition of their work on the development of PERC solar technology and its efficiency improvement
- Their work has led to PERC accounting for almost 90% of the global solar cell market today
The 2023 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) considered the world’s most prestigious engineering prize and ‘Nobel for engineering’, has been awarded to 4 Australian solar scientists—Prof Martin Green, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and Professor Andrew Blakers from the Australian National University (ANU).
Hailed as the father of modern photovoltaics in the world of solar PV, Green is sharing the £500,000 award with his 3 PhD students. Wang and her husband Zhao went on to launch solar manufacturer Sunergy in China in 2006.
The award recognizes their work for the development of Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) and greatly improving energy conversion efficiency of commercially dominant silicon cells by improving the top as well as the rear surface of standard silicon solar cells.
Their win is also an opportune time to reflect on the growth of solar PV and PERC specifically over the decades and how far it has come. First reported by Edmond Becquerel in 1839, the photovoltaic effect led to the development of the world’s 1st solar PV cells at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1954. That’s when these started to be used as energy source for spacecraft.
Once commercial production of these cells for use on earth began in the 1970s, their commercial efficiency reached 14% by the early 1980s and 20% considered as the practical limit for a single-layer silicon solar cell.
Enter the 2023 QEPrize winners with Green and Blakers producing solar cells with 18% efficiency in 1983, reaching 20% in the next few years, and eventually reporting more than 21% in 1989 along with Wang and Zhao. Green expected the practical efficiency limit of 25% for these silicon cells with the 4 agreeing to a theoretical maximum achievable efficiency of close to 30%.
In the 1990s, Green, Wang and Zhao achieved 25% efficiency that wasn’t broken till 2014. QEPrize sees their work over the years to improve efficiency of solar cells and reduce their cost to have today led to the cost of solar power generation coming down by more than 80% in the last decade and it is the cheapest source of electricity generation in many countries.
While PERC was invented by the Green’ team in the late 1980s, it took until 2016/17 before the technology really started to take off commercially — and that’s when the 1st of several TaiyangNews PERC reports was published (see TaiyangNews PERC Report 2017). Although n-type technologies TOPCon and HJT are quickly expanding, the major market share is still being taken by PERC, which has reached much higher efficiencies at competitive cost levels than anyone had believed, a topic we discussed in our recent PERC production equipment report (see TaiyangNews PERC Cell Production Equipment Survey 2022).
Blakers said, “On current growth rates, silicon solar cells will have more installed power generation capacity in 2031 than coal, gas, nuclear and hydro combined.”
“I hope that PERC technology winning the QEPrize will highlight the importance of accelerated solar adoption to address climate change,” added Green who won Europe’s biggest technology innovation prize in October 2022 (see Professor Martin Green Wins Millennium Technology Award).