My Story and My Vision of China: Interview with "the Father of Photovoltaics", Professor Martin Green


(People's Daily Online)


There is an ego wall in the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, University of New South Wales, with records of all world's leading research achievements that the school has achieved. Time can be traced back to 1974, when Professor Martin Green, Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics in UNSW, started to research into photovoltaics solar cells with a very small group in a little lab. Since then, as the keeper of world record for the highest efficiency silicon solar cell for over three decades, they have continued to be the world's leader in photovoltaic research.

Professor Martin Green receiving the Global Energy Prize


As the Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics in UNSW, Professor Martin Green has received many awards for his research, development and educational activities in the field of photovoltaics. He was awarded the prestigious Global Energy Prize in Moscow in October, an award for outstanding achievement in research and technology that helps to solve some of the world's most pressing energy challenges, and he is the first Australian to receive this award.

Professor Green was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1948, and he received his bachelor degree from The University of Queensland in Australia and his doctorate degree from McMaster University in Canada. He was initially interested in microelectronics when he entered university. His first task was to put four transistors onto a chip and then ten transistors were the next project.

"Then I started getting a bit disillusioned with that kind of work and I thought I wanted to take on something that could be more challenging and satisfying personally. In the early 1970s, there was a new batch of funding for research to generate alternative sources of energy, like solar, so that there would be no more oil crisis in the future, which was both interesting and exciting," he said.

Professor Green and his team focus on increasing the efficiency of silicon solar cell and the commercialization of their research result. In 1983, they get their first world's record for the silicon solar cell performance with a silicon solar cell that could convert 18 percent of the energy of the sunlight into electrical energy, and their continual research helped them to hold the record for 31 of the 35 years after then.

"In 2008, we made the first 25 percent efficient cell. Every time you realize you have a new world record, it is a very exciting moment. So we opened a bottle of champagne and it was a crazy night, but that would also keep you highly motivated as well. So our team members have worked very hard after that, around the clock, trying to get the next world record," said Professor Green.

Professor Martin Green taking the interview from People's Daily Online

Professor Green is often called as "the Father of Photovoltaics". He thought he received such a reputation because he has been training many students who went on to have a big impact in building up the industry. Among more than seventy Ph.D. students he had, many of them are students from China.

His most famous Chinese student is Zhengrong Shi, the Chinese-Australian renewable energy entrepreneur. Zhengrong Shi started his Ph.D. study at UNSW in 1988 and received his doctorate degree on solar power technology three years later. In 2001, Zhengrong Shi returned to China to set up a solar cell manufacturing company, and many people from Professor Green's research team went over to China to help him set up the necessary manufacturing facilities. Thus, when Shi opened his first factory in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province in 2002, Professor Green was invited to the opening.

"That was a very exciting event because I have never been to a Chinese factory opening before. It's quite a performance with the fireworks, ribbon cutting, and everything."

When Shi's company got listed on the US stock exchange in 2005, Professor Green and his wife were also invited to the celebration event. He was very excited for Shi's company's success as the first privately held Chinese company to actually list on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2006, Zhengrong Shi debuted on the BRW rich list and became the new richest man in China.

"When he listed, he invited myself and my wife to go along to the listing event. We actually got to go up on the podium with Zhengrong, help him ring the bell when his stocks listed on the exchange."

After Shi built the first solar cell manufacturing factory in China, many of Professor Green's students continued to get involved in and became leading figures in the Chinese photovoltaic industry. Professor Green believed that it was these students that provide the technical backup required to establish many of the Chinese photovoltaic companies that are now flourishing.

Professor Green established his first real contact with mainland China back in 1981, when a Chinese researcher from Wuhan was sent to visit them after China's opening-up in 1978. In 1984, Professor Green and his team were invited by that researcher to visit his university, Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. He spent three weeks in China, giving lectures on solar cells. He has been impressed by China's enormous change since then.

Professor Martin Green telling his story with his student Zhengrong Shi

"In 1984, everyone wore uniforms, either green or blue. Things like restaurants were very limited and most people rode bicycles. I always had to move quite slowly because you have to find your way through the bicycles and those people," Professor Green recalled.

When Professor went to China again in 2002 for the opening of Zhengrong Shi's company, everything has changed. His fight landed in Shanghai, and he found that the whole city was filled with cranes and there were development and construction going on everywhere within the city. But now all the construction phase seems to be over, and Shanghai has been built into a well-constructed modern city. "So it's pretty interesting to see that change. I've seen the old China that many modern Chinese could not have seen, so I feel privileged to it. To see the transition," he said.

What excited Professor Green most during China's 40 Years of Reform and Development and research into Photovoltaic energy is China's contribution to reducing the costs of solar, as the manufacturing of solar cell in China has made it possible to reach the lowest cost for solar cell around the world. Professor Green is very positive about both the development of the photovoltaic industry itself and its development in China.

"I think solar is going to be one of the biggest industries of the future. And China is obviously extremely well positioned within that industry," He said.

Professor Green pointed out that China and Australia follow different trajectories in the research and usage of solar power, which made it possible for interchanges of ideas and collaboration between the two countries.

"We have various agreements with different universities, companies, and other research institutes in China, working together to improve the technology. We look forward to more long-term collaboration in this area in the future."