Professor Martin Green, Professor Andrew Blakers, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao are awarded the world’s most prestigious engineering accolade for transforming the efficiency of solar cells and dramatically reducing costs, making solar the cheapest source of electricity in most countries.
LONDON, Feb. 8, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The 2023 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) is today awarded to Professor Martin Green, Professor Andrew Blakers, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao for their research work and development of Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) solar photovoltaic technology that has underpinned the recent growth of high performance, low-cost solar electricity, to harness the power of the sun.
Awarded annually, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is presented to engineers responsible for ground-breaking innovations that have been of global benefit to humanity. Celebrating its tenth year in 2023, the Prize announcement was made by Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation.
The 2023 Laureates greatly improved the energy conversion efficiency of commercially dominant silicon cells by improving the quality of both the top and the rear surface of standard silicon solar cells. PERC introduced an additional layer on the back surface that helped prevent recombination and further, reflected unused photons back into the silicon to generate more electrons.
In 1983, Green and Blakers at the University of New South Wales produced solar cells with 18% efficiency, surpassing the 16.5% recorded previously. Over the next few years, they published cell results of 19% and 20% efficiency, and theoretically determined the maximum achievable efficiency to be close to 30%. Green’s Lab at the University of South Wales held the global record for efficiency for 30 of the 40 years from 1983 to 2023, with Wang and Zhao leading the work which eventually reached Green’s 25% efficiency target.
Recognising the important role PERC technology plays in the development of solar energy, the awardees published their findings with no patent, encouraging further developments within the field and driving down the cost of production to the benefit of wider society.
Through continued research and development, and the help of many others worldwide, the 2023 laureates have significantly reduced the costs of solar panels, with the cost of solar power generation falling by over 80% in the past decade. PERC technology is now the most commercially viable and efficient silicon solar cell technology used in solar panels and large-scale electricity production, and accounts for almost 90% of the global solar cell market.
The increased adoption of solar energy, alongside other renewable energies, is key to reducing more than three quarters of present-day global emissions and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – as called for in the Paris Agreement. Solar energy provides a solution that is not only clean and sustainable, but accessible and affordable to the wider public.
The demand for solar energy is growing around the world. With global economies increasingly recognising its benefits, the IEA estimates global solar PV capacity to almost triple over the 2022-2027 period, becoming the largest source of power capacity in the world. Currently, Solar is providing about half of new-build electricity generation capacity worldwide.
Not only is solar being introduced into major national electricity grids but because of its low cost and easy installation, it is also being utilised in microgrids for communities across global low- and middle-income countries.
"I am honoured to share this esteemed award with Andrew Blakers, Aihua Wang and Jianhua Zhao. As engineers, we are constantly striving to improve the world we live in. As the world feels the devastating impacts of our changing environment and collapsing ecosystems, I feel passionately that more must be done to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and keep up with the trajectory of human civilization. I hope that PERC technology winning the QEPrize will open many people’s eyes to the possibilities of renewable energy." – Professor Martin Green
"It is a privilege to receive the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering alongside Martin Green, Aihua Wang and Jianhua Zhao. The QEPrize aims to inspire a new generation of engineers and I hope that this year these engineers will be inspired, like me, to create solutions that can help us tackle the biggest challenges faced by humanity, such as climate change."- Professor Andrew Blakers
"Achievements in engineering can have a remarkable impact all over the world and we are very grateful that the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has selected PERC technology among many global innovations. It is my pleasure to share this award among friends and colleagues who each played a critical role in achieving the energy efficiency target." – Dr Aihua Wang
"I am greatly honoured and pleased to receive this award. We have been deeply committed to the research and development of PERC technology for many decades, and so to be recognised alongside Martin Green and Andrew Blakers for this contribution is very special." – Dr Jianhua Zhao
"The QEPrize celebrates the engineers who time and time again solve the impossible and transform our world for the better. PERC solar technology is one of those innovations. I believe that everything we do has to be oriented around the global energy transition, so we can achieve net zero, for the planet and the people that live on it. This year’s innovation has been and will continue to be integral to this journey. We are in the process of global energy transition, with PERC and solar power in the front seat, and I wholeheartedly congratulate Professors Green and Blakers, and Drs Wang and Zhao for their contribution to humanity." – Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman, Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation
"Over the last ten years, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has highlighted the importance of engineering to better society. This year’s winners – Professor Martin Green, Professor Andrew Blakers, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao – encapsulate the aims of the QEPrize perfectly. They are behind the development and commercialisation of PERC technology, which has helped to drive the supply of clean energy around the world as part of the drive to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The future of solar cells is enormous and could make major contribution to delivering net zero emissions." – Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Chair of the QEPrize Judging Panel
Marking a significant milestone for the QEPrize, Green, Blakers, Wang and Zhao receive this award on the Prize’s 10th anniversary. Over the past decade, QEPrize has honoured 20 engineers whose innovations have had a significant impact on billions of lives around the world. The 2023 laureates will be formally honoured at the QEPrize presentation ceremony later this year. They will receive £500,000 and a unique trophy, designed by the 2023 Create the Trophy winner Anja Brandl, a 24 year-old Masters Student from Switzerland.
To find out more about this year’s winning innovation, visit www.qeprize.org/winners
A major new gallery exploring how engineers change the world will open at the Science Museum in London on 23 June 2023. Marking the 10th anniversary of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize), the Engineers gallery will showcase previous winners of the prize, alongside some of the most exciting engineering innovations of recent years.
Contact: Sophie Isles