5 Minutes With: Scientia Professor Martin Green

Distinguished looking man in suit smiles in front of solar panels
UNSW Sydney Scientia Professor Martin Green

Energy Source & Distribution steals five minutes with UNSW Sydney Scientia Professor Martin Green, who has just been inducted into the prestigious United States National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for technical contributions enabling the widespread use of silicon photovoltaics.

Prof Green, congratulations on your induction into the US National Academy of Engineering. What does this accolade mean for you personally and professionally?
It is a huge honour, as only 10 other Australian engineers are presently members. The Academy also plays a major role as an independent source of reliable information within the US system, so I also hope to provide support for this role.

You’re regarded as the ‘father of modern photovoltaics’. What sparked your interest in silicon solar cells early on in your career?
I became interested in microelectronics during my undergraduate studies but the increasing interest in new energy sources triggered by the oil embargoes on the 1970s gave me the opportunity to apply the expertise that I had developed to a field that I thought would have a broader social impact.

What’s your focus now, in terms of solar research?
I have two key areas of interest. One is in working with manufacturers to get commercial silicon solar cell efficiencies as close as possible to the 29% energy conversion efficiency figure that I showed was a fundamental limit back in 1983. The other is trying to identify and develop other solar cell material that will be suitable for stacking onto silicon to allow this efficiency to be boosted to over 40%.

Related article: Aussie solar pioneers win world’s top engineering prize

Considering the government’s electrification plan, what opportunities and challenges lie ahead for the solar industry, in your opinion?
Solar is now enabling a major transformation in the way we generate our energy. The main challenge is to implement this transformation as quickly and smoothly as possible to protect us as much as possible from the worst impacts of climate change.

What’s something you wish more people knew about solar, whether it’s from an R&D or more general perspective?
Probably the necessity to transform our energy systems as quickly as possible away from fossil fuel dependence to dependence on solar and other renewable resources.

What are some exciting avenues of solar research at UNSW Sydney’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the moment?
A recent study identified UNSW as #1 in the world in photovoltaics. Not only are we strong in research, but we introduced the world’s first undergraduate engineering degree program in Photovoltaic Engineering back in 2000. We now have a very wide range of research programs ranging from my areas of particular interest mentioned above across the whole field from futuristic concepts to addressing near-term practical issues.

Finally, what do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
UNSW Sydney is located near the beach, so I enjoy the lifestyle this offers as well as spending time with my family and friends in the area.

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