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|A scientist who established Australia's
first solar cell production line has won an American award for his
outstanding contribution to solar technology. At a black-tie
ceremony in Sydney last night, Professor Stuart Wenham, who heads
the University of New South Wales photovoltaic centre of excellence,
was also named the university's inaugural inventor of the year and
its top environmental science inventor.
He won the main $20,000 award from a short list of 11 finalists -
all of whom have invented technologies that are now commercialised -
beating stiff competition from biomedicine, information technology
and engineering. Returning from China this week, where he leads
technology innovation for solar cell manufacturing giant SunTech,
Professor Wenham said Australia was lagging behind other countries
in developing solar technology markets.
"We have fantastic potential to generate new jobs around solar and
other renewable energies. But the big challenge is that our
electricity is relatively cheap, and there is little incentive for
governments to make the move from coal," he said. Professor Wenham
said China was taking the future potential of solar energy "very
seriously indeed", and was now a world leader in photovoltaic
The industry is now worth about $40 billion a year in China, and is
growing at an annual rate of 50 % . SunTech, which employs 10,000
people, was created by University of New South Wales graduate Dr
Zhengrong Shi to commercialise Australian solar cell technology.
Professor Wenham said China was "determined to make it [solar]
leading part of the country's energy future".
In a career spanning 25 years, he has invented, or co-invented,
eight solar cell technologies that have been commercialised around
the world, but none are currently manufactured in Australia. "We had
hoped our thin film solar technology might be picked up here, but it
ended up going offshore to be manufactured in Germany."
In 1983, Professor Wenham and his PhD supervisor co-invented the
buried contact solar cell, a high-efficiency solar silicon cell with
tiny, laser-etched grooves in which wires carrying the electric
current are buried. It is ranked as one of Australia's top 100
inventions of the 20th century by the Australian Academy of
His inventions include a screen-printed finger cell, improved solar
cell manufacturing methods, depositing thin-film silicon cells on
glass, and a high-energy conversion technology being commercialised
by SunTech. In about six weeks Professor Wenham will head to
Philadelphia to receive the William Cherry award from the United
States Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for
outstanding contributions to the advancement of photovoltaic
He would like to see some of his world-first solar inventions
manufactured in Australia when the market receives the incentives
needed to boost uptake of renewable energy. "Whether we end up with
an emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax or a mix of both, it will
finally have its heading in the right direction."