Australia’s Crucial Role In Affordable Rooftop Solar

If it wasn’t for Australian research and innovation, solar panels might not yet be as affordable as they are today. SolarQuotes founder Finn Peacock briefly explains why.

Transcript begins —

Let’s take a look at Australia’s incredible solar history. The modern solar panel was effectively invented in Australia by a team at the University of New South Wales led by a Dr. Martin Green1. Martin Green set up a small research team in Sydney in the early eighties with an aim of improving the efficiency of solar cells. That team took the efficiency of a solar cell up to 25%. Since the team was founded, it has held the solar cell efficiency record for 30 of the last 38 years.

Also in 1983, Martin Green personally invented the PERC2 solar cell. Now, this type of solar cell is currently found in 90% of panels produced today.

The team is currently working on stacking silicon cells on top of each other, and they’re aiming to get to 40% efficiency at the cell level – insane!

But not only did Martin Green do all that with the underlying solar technology, his research students went on to found and lead many of the multi-billion dollar solar companies that nailed low cost solar panel production in China; dropping the cost of solar panels over 95%. Without Martin Green and his researchers in Sydney, we wouldn’t have the low-cost, high-performance solar today companies like Tindo Solar can make for our homes.

— Transcript ends

This segment was from SolarQuotes TV Episode 11: The Australian-Made Solar Edition – showcasing Australian researchers and manufacturers transforming the global renewable energy scene with their technologies.

More On Martin Green

Among the many accolades Professor Green – aka “the father of photovoltaics” – has received was the very prestigious Japan Prize  in the field of “Resources, Energy, the Environment, and Social Infrastructure” this year.

As Finn mentioned, Professor Green has been a mentor to many. He has supervised more than 120 PhD students over the course of his long career; one of those being Shi Zhengrong. Mr. Shi knocked on the Professor’s door in 1989 looking for work, but was instead offer a scholarship to do PV research.

Dr. Shi went on to found solar panel manufacturer Suntech3 and more recently Sunman Energy; which produces flexible solar panels that are a fraction of the weight of their conventional counterparts.

Commenting on the evolution of solar power, in January this year Professor Green said:

“‘Early in my career, solar was interesting but terribly expensive. Now it embodies the long-standing hope of an abundant, inexpensive renewable resource.'”

The cost per kilowatt of rooftop solar in Australia has dropped from around $15 a watt prior to 2008 to around 95c a watt in November 2021 according to the SolarQuotes Australian Solar Price Index. I remember paying $1,000 for a 100W Suntech panel for an off-grid setup back in 2008 – so, $10 a watt. You can pick up a 100W module for around a hundred bucks nowadays.

That Australian research played such an important role making installing solar more accessible to so many people is something we can all be very proud of.

Footnotes

  1. Now Professor.
  2. PERC stands for Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (or Contact). You can learn more about PERC solar panels here.
  3. Up until 2013, Dr. Shi was Suntech’s chairman and chief executive officer. As for what happened, well, it’s a long story.
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Norbert Reni says

    Very informative. Had no idea Aussies were the forerunners in the PV field. But the affordability I would argue comes from Aussie taxpayers (low income ones included) paying 50% of the purchase price. It’s why I bought one. Yet even with taxpayers paying half of the cost you won’t find them in low income suburbs. Still too costly for these folk.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Perhaps these lower income suburbs have a lot of rental homes in them and that’s why you’re not seeing many solar systems? Lower income Australians who own a roof to put solar on are more likely to have it than higher income Australians. This is because they are more focused on getting a good deal.

      • Norbert Reni says

        Point taken on the higher propensity of rentals in low income areas. But that aside, the problem for most low income earners is still up front money. I didn’t get PV system when the kids were home because I just couldn’t afford it (good deal or not) even with my fellow low income Aussie taxpayers funding half the purchase price. I just didn’t have the readies. It wasn’t until I retired that I could find a spare six grand to pay for an install (and quite a few other things). Don’t know about the other capital cities but the one that I’m familiar with (Adelaide), doesn’t have as many PV’s on rooves in poorer suburbs as in the middle and high income ones. Maybe low income Adelaideans/Adelaideites haven’t been told what a good deal it is. Then again if renewables are the answer to saving the planet as many claim maybe they should get them for free. What the heck, it’s only taxpayers money.

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Giving people solar for free is better for the world than not installing solar, but as someone with an interest in efficiency the logical thing to do is put a price on carbon emissions. The odds of this happening here any time soon are not high, so all we have are second best solutions.

  2. Norbert Reni says

    That’s right – taxing carbon emissions produced by for Australians for Australians whilst allowing third worlders and China to keep burning coal for decades to come is a very second best solution. However with regards to the article it’s beside the point. Reality is that without Australian taxpayers money PV sysytems would get stuff all consideration from the general public no matter how efficient they became. (And they’re not very.) Personally (even though I believe our planetary salvation is nuclear) my hope is that renewable technology gets rapidly to the stage where it is so viable that not only can it be weaned off the Aussie taxpayers teats before it sucks them dry but also where it is so cheap we can give it away to third worlders. That for me is a much better second-best solution.

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