• Written by Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University
Australian-designed technology will soon be responsible for 50% of all solar energy produced globally. Glenn Hunt/AAP

In the 1980s, a global race was underway: to find a more efficient way of converting energy from the sun into electricity.

Some 30 years ago, our research team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) came up with a breakthrough, called the PERC silicon solar cell. The cells have become the most widely deployed electricity generation technology in terms of capacity added globally each year – comfortably exceeding wind, coal, gas, hydro and others.


Read more: Curious Kids: how do solar panels work?


PERC stands for Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell. By the end of this year, PERC technology will be mitigating about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions by displacing coal burning. Assuming that its rapid growth continues, it should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by the mid-2020s and possibly much more in later years.

The terrible bushfires in Australia this summer, enhanced by the hottest and driest year on record in 2019, underline the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. By far the most effective way is driving coal out of electricity systems through very rapid deployment of solar and wind.

Soon, our Aussie invention will be generating half the world’s solar power. It is a pertinent reminder of Australia’s capacity for finding transformative technical solutions to address climate change. But we need the right government support.

A solar farm near Canberra. Lukas Coch/AAP

An Aussie invention

Solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity without moving parts. More efficient solar cells generally produce cheaper electricity because fewer solar cells, glass covers, transport, land and support structures are needed for a given solar power output.

By the early 1980s, the best laboratory cells around the world had reached 17% efficiency. This means that 17% of the sunlight was converted to electricity, and the rest (83%) of the solar energy was lost (as heat).

During the 1980s, our research team at UNSW led by Martin Green and myself created a series of world-record-efficient silicon solar cells. We reported 18% efficiency in 1984, 19% efficiency also in 1984, and the important milestone of 20% efficiency in 1986.


Read more: Some good news for a change: Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are set to fall


In 1989 our group reported a new solar cell design called “PERC”, with a record efficiency of 22-23%.

This new, more efficient cell was better than the old ones because we eliminated some defects in the silicon crystal surface, which led to lower electronic losses. The PERC design also enabled us to capture the sunlight more effectively.

In the 1990s, further improvements to laboratory PERC cells were made at UNSW, leading to cells in the 24-25% efficiency range. The global silicon solar cell efficiency record remained at UNSW until recently.

There was a 25-year gap between development of the PERC cell and its rapid commercial adoption, which began in 2013. During this time, many people worked to adapt the PERC design to commercial production.

PERC cells are more efficient than previous commercial cells. Strong incentives for more efficient cells have recently arisen due to the continually falling share of cell costs as a proportion of total solar power system costs (including transport, land and mounting systems).

The big benefits of solar

Currently, solar power constitutes more than 40% of net new electricity generation capacity additions, with fossil, nuclear, wind, hydro and other renewables making up the balance.

Solar is growing faster than the other electricity generation technologies. Over time, as fossil-fuelled power stations are retired, solar (and wind) will dominate electricity production, with consequent large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar power has experienced sustained rapid exponential growth over decades, while other generation technologies are currently experiencing static, falling or negligible sales. https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Mar/Renewable-Capacity-Statistics-2019

This year, enough PERC solar modules will be sold to generate 60-70 gigawatts of power. According to projections, PERC will reach three quarters of annual solar module sales in the mid-2020s, enough to match the generation capacity additions from all other technologies combined.

About A$50 billion worth of PERC modules have been sold to date. This is expected to reach several hundred billion Australian dollars later this decade.

Just imagine

Australian emissions (excluding those from bushfires) are falling because we are installing solar and wind four times faster per capita than the EU, US, Japan and China.

Our position as a global leader in renewables installation is uncertain because the Renewable Energy Target, which was achieved in 2019, has not been extended.


Read more: Weather bureau says hottest, driest year on record led to extreme bushfire season


With supportive policy, such as facilitating more transmission to bring solar and wind power to the cities, Australia could greatly increase the speed at which wind and solar are deployed, yielding rapid and deep cuts at about zero-net cost.

Such policy would entail stronger and sustained government support for renewables deployment, and research and development of new technologies.

Renewables must replace polluting coal-fired power if the world is to tackle climate change. SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA

Looking ahead

Solar energy is vast, ubiquitous and indefinitely sustainable. Simple calculations show that less than 1% of the world’s land area would be required to provide all of the world’s energy from solar power – much of it on building roofs, in deserts and floating on water bodies.

Solar systems use only very common materials (we could never run out), have minimal need for mining (about 1% of that needed for equivalent fossil or nuclear fuels), have minimal security and military risks (we will never go to war over solar access), cannot have significant accidents (unlike nuclear), and have minimal environmental impact over unlimited time scales.

Australia is making major contributions to mitigating climate change both through rapid deployment of wind and solar and technology development such as our PERC cells. But with better government support, much more can be done – quickly and at low cost.

During the 1980s, when the PERC cell was developed, Andrew Blakers received funding from the Australian Research Council and similar organisations.

Authors: Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-an-aussie-invention-could-soon-cut-5-of-the-worlds-greenhouse-gas-emissions-121571

9 Great Room Decorating Ideas for Your Home

Are you trying to create a space that you're going to love? Read this article for great room decorating ideas that will make you feel at home.With the living room/great room or family room being hig...

Sarah Williams - avatar Sarah Williams

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A CATERING SERVICE FOR YOUR WEDDING

Catering is a popular and sought-after service. Choosing a banquet hall for a wedding, you cannot compromise, for the sake of a beautiful interior, agreeing to a kitchen that does not suit you. Just...

News Company - avatar News Company

THE BEST DRINKS TO SERVE AT A PARTY

Whoever said throwing a party is a piece of cake probably forgot that the cake is just one thing off of the list for a party planner or a host. Planning a party is no easy feat. It might even take w...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Advantages of Bulk Purchase

Bulk purchasing is the process of buying a certain product in larger quantities to obtain the benefits of lower per-unit prices. Usually, companies buy raw materials in bulk to get economies of scal...

News Company - avatar News Company

Why Australians fell out of love with Holdens

Harrison Broadbent, Unsplash, CC BY-SAThe jingle used to tell us we loved “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars”. These days we love Japanese utes and small Toyotas, Hyundais ...

Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology

Nearly 80% of Australians affected in some way by the bushfires, new survey shows

James Gourley/AAPLast month, the Australian National University contracted with the Social Research Centre (SRC) to survey more than 3,000 Australian adults about their experiences and attitudes rela...

Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University - avatar Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

65,000-year-old plant remains show the earliest Australians spent plenty of time cooking

Researchers May Nango, Djaykuk Djandjomerr and S. Anna Florin collecting plants in Kakadu National Park. Elspeth Hayes, Author providedAustralia’s first people ate a wide variety of fruits, vege...

S. Anna Florin, PhD candidate, The University of Queensland - avatar S. Anna Florin, PhD candidate, The University of Queensland

Coles says these toys promote healthy eating. I say that's rubbish

ShutterstockAs a parent, I find it so frustrating to take my children shopping, reusable bags in hand, only to be offered plastic toys at the checkout. It’s an incredibly confusing message to b...

Carla Liuzzo, Sessional Lecturer, School of Business, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Carla Liuzzo, Sessional Lecturer, School of Business, Queensland University of Technology

Books in a post-f@#^ world. Are we all sworn out yet?

ShutterstockWarning: this piece features frequent coarse language that may offend some readers. Since Adam Mansbuch’s 2011 bestseller, Go the Fuck to Sleep, book titles have been swearing prof...

Donna Mazza, Senior Lecturer in Creative Arts, Edith Cowan University - avatar Donna Mazza, Senior Lecturer in Creative Arts, Edith Cowan University

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company