Professor Martin Green
– The father of solar cells
A world that’s struggling to solve climate change is more than ever in need of smart solutions and green energy, which is why it’s our honour to introduce to you the father of solar cells – someone who’s been chipping away at this for over 50 years.
Small-scale solar now makes up 23.5% of Australia’s renewable energy generation, with medium-scale solar adding another 1.4% and large-scale solar adding 10.9%. In its entirety, renewables contribute 27.7% of Australia’s annual electricity generation, according to the Clean Energy Council.
In the first 3 months of 2021, the United States claimed that their solar capacity had increased by 46% compared to the year before. And while the need for solar capacity to increase in Australia has never been greater, Australian Professor Martin Green knows how painstakingly slow the progress has been.
Martin Green is a Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney and Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, involving several other Australian Universities and research groups. He is also editor-in-chief of the academic journal Progress in Photovoltaics.
Green was born in Brisbane on 20 July 1948, and was educated at the selective Brisbane State High School, graduated from the University of Queensland and completed his PhD on a Commonwealth Scholarship at McMaster University in Canada, where he specialised in solar energy. In 1974, at the University of New South Wales, he initiated the Solar Photovoltaics Group, which soon worked on the development of silicon solar cells.
About a year prior to that, an oil embargo imposed by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries resulted in a 300% increase in oil price, which fuelled the momentum for the solar race.
His groups’ contributions to photovoltaics are well known. They include holding the world record for silicon solar cell efficiency for 30 of the last 37 years, described as one of the ‘Top 10 Milestones’ in the history of solar photovoltaics.
The PERC solar cell – invented by Green in 1983 and developed to its full potential by his team – accounted for an estimated 85% of worldwide solar module production in 2020.
“If you bought the solar panel recently, it will most likely have UNSW PERC technology used in it.”Scientia Professor Martin Green
Another way in which Greens’ team made the cells affordable is through initiatives with over 120 PhD students which Green himself supervised. Many of them have gone on to do great things, not just for the thesis but in their subsequent careers.
“One of my best known students is Dr. Zheng Rong-Shi, born in China but now an Australian citizen. He was driven by his ambition of setting up manufacturing solar cells in China at the turn of the century. He was successful in setting up Sunman Energy which attracted the attention of US investment banks who put him on the US stock market. This was the turning point for the whole solar industry, and one of the reasons we now have cheap solar cells.”Scientia Professor Martin Green
In 2005, when Sunman Energy floated on the US Stock Exchange, it was an enormous success and the biggest technology float of the year for China’s first private company.
This in turn encouraged other Chinese companies to follow his path and other US venture capital firms to help them get listed on the Stock Exchange. Until 2008, just before the economic downturn hit, there were 9 Chinese companies that listed on the US stock market. 6 of these companies listed at the time remain top manufacturers of solar worldwide to date.
“I’m proud to say that 5 of those 6 companies had my former students, either as founders or in the most senior technical positions, such as Chief Technical Officer.”Scientia Professor Martin Green
By 2020, the cost of the solar cell had reduced by a factor of 24% because these listed companies had to compete on the market for dominance.
And so, it’s not surprising that over the years, Green has won many accolades, including Major international awards such as the 1999 Australia Prize, the 2002 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, the 2007 SolarWorld Einstein Award, the 2016 Ian Wark Medal from the Australian Academy of Science, and the prestigious Global Energy Prize in 2018.
In 2021, he was awarded the 2021 Japan Prize for his achievements in the ‘Development of High-Efficiency Silicon Photovoltaic Devices’.
The fact that this innovation of the century had a high practical and commercial value, and may one day save the planet, is reason enough to induct Martin Green and his legacy to the Pause Awards Hall of Fame.