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The father of PV solar

May 10, 2021 May 2021 No Comments

Australian smarts and Chinese industrial might made solar power the cheapest power humanity has seen – and no one saw it coming

The solar cell was invented when Russell Shoemaker Ohl, a researcher in Bell Labs, noticed in 1940 that a cracked silicon sample produced a current when exposed to light. However, little improvement had been made until the contribution of Martin Green, a young engineering professor working out of the University of New South Wales.

Born in Brisbane, Green had spent some time in Canada as a researcher before circling back home in 1974. A year later he had started a PV solar research group working out of a small university laboratory built with unwanted equipment scrounged from big American engineering firms.

His first experiments, alongside a single PhD student, involved looking for ways to increase the voltage on early solar cells.

“Pretty soon, we started beating all these groups in the US in terms of the voltage we could get,” Green says. “Nasa had a project that had six contractors working on it. We beat them all.”

Not long after, Green and his team began to raise their ambitions. Having boosted the voltage, the next step was building better quality cells. Their early efforts broke the world efficiency record in 1983 – a habit the team would continue for 30 of the next 38 years.

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