Looking at 100 years from now in Solar, EVs and MedTech
Discover the insights from a panel discussion at SXSW Sydney featuring Slava Kozlovskii (Founder and CEO of evee), Professor Renate Egan (Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW), and Professor Fiona Wood (Director, Burns Service of Western Australia), as they discuss the remarkable advancements in solar energy, electric vehicles, and medical technology.
Gain a glimpse into the past and future 100 years from now where innovation transforms our way of life.
Australia, a land known for its stunning landscapes and vibrant culture, is also home to some of the most brilliant minds shaping the future of our world. In a lively panel discussion at SXSW Sydney, we had the privilege of hearing from three exceptional individuals, Pause Awards Alumni, who are at the forefront of innovation in their respective fields.
As we delve into their insights, we’ll explore the surprises, challenges, and dreams of these innovators who are shaping the course of history. From solar cells that are changing the energy landscape to electric vehicles paving the way for sustainable transportation and spray-on skin revolutionising medical care, the future is indeed bright down under.
The Solar Revolution Down Under
Australia, with its abundant sunshine, has the potential to lead the world in solar energy. Professor Renate Egan, from the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW, shed light on the remarkable pace of change in the solar industry.
“The amount of solar doubles every two years, so we can confidently say that solar will make up 45% of Australia’s energy contribution by 2030. It’s inspiring!”
“The pace of change is the most surprising to me,” Renate began. “Currently, solar energy contributes to 15% of Australia’s energy production. The amount of solar doubles every two years, so we can confidently say that solar will make up 45% of Australia’s energy contribution by 2030. It’s inspiring!”
While solar panels around the world are often installed in fields, in Australia, they find their home on rooftops. Renate attributed this shift to a game-changing moment. “The tipping point was when the Chinese economy invested in solar,” she explained. “I’m very optimistic. In the ’90s, there were many students from China, and Professor Martin Green, considered the Solar Father, inspired them. Those people went back to China and started manufacturing. This happened in 2000 and was groundbreaking.”
In the early days of solar research in Australia, funding was scarce. Renate humorously dubbed it ‘SolarCoaster.’ “We couldn’t raise funds in Australia, so we had to look offshore to raise capital,” she recalled.
Looking ahead, Professor Egan believes that in 100 years, solar and wind energy will dominate the energy landscape. “If Australia moves fast, it can contribute to the green economy. We should be processing downstream in the future. If we don’t, our GDP will suffer.”
The Miracle of Spray-On Skin
Medicine is another realm where Australian innovation is making waves. Professor Fiona Wood, the Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia, shared her perspective on medical technology and the journey of developing spray-on skin.
“The most surprising thing is the time it takes,” Fiona reflected. “You can’t do it on your own; you have to communicate and collaborate. I don’t know what motivation is, but it’s contagious.”
Professor Wood emphasised the importance of making a difference in the medical field. “In order to make a difference, you have to make money, but unless you make a difference, you don’t make money,” she explained. However, she acknowledged that everything takes time, and the landscape for innovation has evolved since the 1990s.
“I don’t know what motivation is, but it’s contagious.”
From a research perspective, Fiona Wood highlighted the challenges in Australia. “We’re looking at crumbs on the table,” she lamented. “We spend time applying for grants with a 10% success rate. We spend a lot of time getting nowhere. Every step of the way, we’re naive, and investors need to add a zero on every check written in Australia.”
She stressed the need to engage not just with politicians but also with the community. “What’s the point in making more wheels?” Fiona questioned. “We have to have confidence in going international and collaborating. Money gets you a seat at the table. If we don’t aggressively engage in innovation, we’ll be importing it in the future. Because we’re not at the table, it will cost more on every level. We need, as a country, to be at the table on a meaningful level. When we go internationally, we want people to take us seriously.”
Looking into the future, Professor Wood urged a long-term perspective. “It’s significant to look into the future 50 or 100 years from now, not just 2-5 years, because we need to take off our blinders,” she stated. “If we take people to Mars, how will they heal wounds in space with zero gravity? We’ll have robotic surgery. Would we even not need surgeons in the future? Maybe we’ll understand ourselves better, and we’ll develop technology that allows us to regrow or regenerate parts of the body, much like a lizard regrows its tail.”
“It’s significant to look into the future 50 or 100 years from now, not just 2-5 years, because we need to take off our blinders.”
Professor Wood challenged us to consider how we will get there and drive this innovation forward. “It’s about the will and drive,” she emphasised, underlining the importance of determination and persistence in the field of medical research.
In a captivating revelation, Professor Wood recalled, “In England in 1987, there was only one CT scanner, while there were more scanners in Perth than in all of England.”
Driving the Electric Revolution
Electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer a novelty; they are the future of transportation. Slava Kozlovskii, the visionary Founder and CEO of evee, shared his journey in the electric mobility industry, where he’s seen remarkable growth and transformation.
“Electric Cars are more than 100 years old, and they were more popular back in the day,” Slava reminisced. “In 2016 when we started, there were only 500 EVs in the country. We faced so much apathy from people – ‘Is this going to take off?’ – and apathy from insurance companies. I ended up talking to insurance companies for 3 years.”
Funding has always been a challenge for innovators, and Slava’s story is no different. He explained, “Funding is never easy, never-ending, and always hard. We spent 6 months talking to corporates and VC, lots of interest but the conversion rate was low. So we went with equity crowdfunding Birchal, raising $1.6 M, and we got 600 new members and investors.”
“It costs you less over the lifetime.”
One of the most significant hurdles for electric vehicles has been the upfront cost, but as Slava highlighted, “It costs you less over the lifetime.” However, people tend to pay more attention to upfront costs, which is why Slava’s company focuses on letting people experience EVs firsthand.
But what’s holding Australia back from fully embracing electric vehicles? According to Slava, it’s the limited variety of EV models available. He encouraged more diversity in the market. And then there’s the issue of charging infrastructure. “In Australia I have 7 different charging apps on my phone,” he quipped. “I used multiple chargers in Germany, and it works fine with QR code and website login. Australia needs regulation in this regard.”
Interestingly, range anxiety, a common concern for EV users, doesn’t seem to be a major issue in Australia. Slava reassured, “We’re good here, not a major problem, plenty of chargers.”
It’s evident that Australia is on the cusp of revolutionary change in solar energy, electric vehicles, and medical technology. Slava Kozlovskii’s journey with evee showcases the rapid evolution of electric mobility and the potential it holds for a sustainable future. The opportunity is there but the question is how are we going to get there, it’s about the will and our drive. “If we don’t aggressively engage in innovation now we’ll be importing it in the future,” says Professor Fiona Wood.