'It's magical': $30 million for researchers capturing the power of sunshine


Politics
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The science of sunshine has preoccupied Martin Green for more than 40 years, but the way solar panels make our toasters pop and our kettles boil still leaves him spellbound.

The science of sunshine has preoccupied Martin Green for more than 40 years, but the way solar panels make toasters pop and kettles boil still leaves him spellbound.

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"You have this material that basically just sits there in the sunlight and you get electricity out from it," he said.

"To understand the physics you need a year of undergraduate work or something like that ... But the way it operates is sort of magical."

A research team led by the University of NSW scientia professor is among 20 to share in almost $30 million in federal funding, to be announced by Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Wednesday.

The funding, delivered through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, has been granted to projects that will accelerate the development of solar photovoltaic technology by making it more efficient and cost effective.

Successful candidates hail from UNSW, the Australian National University, Monash University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The projects include the development of printable solar cells that can be rolled up and transported, and the integration of semi-transparent solar cells into windows.

Coaxing silicon solar cells to convert more of the sun's energy to electricity is the aim of the project led by Professor Green, who is known as the father of photovoltaics.

The research involves stacking cells from materials that have the same adamantine, or diamond-like, structure as silicone, to reduce the amount of energy lost.

Stacking just one super-thin cell - about a fortieth the thickness of a human hair - on top of a silicon layer could see 35 per cent of the sun's energy captured and converted to electricity, Professor Green said. The efficiency rate of silicon alone is presently about 25 per cent.

More than one in five Australian homes has rooftop solar panels - many of them using technology devised by Professor Green and his students.

More efficient solar cells mean lower transport and building costs and even greater uptake - reducing demand for coal-fired power and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"I think solar is the only thing on the horizon that's likely to bring CO2 emissions under control," said Professor Green.

"Politically it just seems too difficult to get the consensus and action that's required to produce an internationally coordinated effort. But economics can do it.

"In Australia it's been private home owners that have driven the growth of the industry ... it's a consumer led revolution."

Mr Frydenberg said Australia was a global leader in the development of solar PV technology development.

"This funding will see that we continue to increase our skills, capacity and knowledge, as we seek to deliver more affordable and reliable power, while transitioning to a lower emissions future," he said.

"By ensuring that we are technology ready, the commercial deployment of renewable technology in Australia will remain in the fast lane."

Other projects to receive funding include research to find cheaper, greener, less toxic or more abundant solar PV materials, improving the quality and lifespan of silicon and finding new ways to fix cell defects.

The story 'It's magical': $30 million for researchers capturing the power of sunshine first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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