By Nick Flaherty
The developers of PERC solar cell technology have been awarded the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) for 2023.
The award to Professor Martin Green, Professor Andrew Blakers, Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao is 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
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. Previous winners include the investors of LED technology.
PERC introduced an additional layer on the back surface of a silicon solar cell that helps prevent recombination and reflects unused photons back into the silicon to generate more electrons.
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.
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.
The researchers published their findings with no patent, encouraging further developments within the field and driving down the cost of production.
This has 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.
Global solar PV capacity is estimated to almost triple by 2027, becoming the largest source of power capacity in the world. It currently provides about half of new-build electricity generation capacity worldwide.
“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,” said 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,” said 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,” said 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,” said Dr Jianhua Zhao.
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.