Thermodynamics seminars

The unstoppable progress of silicon photovoltaics: a tale of three projects

11am–12pm Thursday 28 March 2019

Venue: Level 3 seminar room, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Alison Lennon


Photovoltaics is the fastest growing renewable energy technology and has the highest manufacturing experience rate of all renewable energy technologies. By 2050, photovoltaics could supply 30–50% of the world’s electricity, with a levelised cost of electricity expected to be in the range of US$0.02 – $0.06/kWh. Especially for regions in the ‘sun belt’, photovoltaics can provide a cost-effective means by which both the electricity and transport sectors can be decarbonised. Unlike fossil fuel resources, solar energy is ubiquitous and so, once a photovoltaic system has been installed, the price of the electricity generated is predictable and not subject to resource pricing changes. This can provide a global energy stability that has not previously been possible with energy systems that rely on resources distributed unevenly across the world. Photovoltaic manufacturing is dominated by silicon devices that have their origins in the Bell Labs’ ‘solar battery’ in the 1950’s. Although deemed at the time to be “of limited practical use”, these devices have come a long way, with costs of manufacturing silicon modules dropping to as low as US$0.22/W in late 2018. This presentation will trace key developments and challenges faced in this unstoppable pathway post 2010 through the experiences from collaborative research projects with leading silicon photovoltaic manufacturers Suntech Power, Trina Solar and LONGi Solar. In particular, it considers technology development and decisions relating to patterning for metal contacts, durable metallisation and, more recently, module optimisation for electricity yield rather than power under standard test conditions.  Although this journey has been largely realised in Chinese manufacturing companies, the presentation will highlight the contributions of Australian research and the importance to Australia that this manufacturing evolution has occurred.


Assoc Prof Lennon is an academic in the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) at UNSW Sydney, Australia. She holds PhDs in Biophysical NMR (University of Sydney, 1995) and Photovoltaic Engineering (UNSW, 2010), was awarded a University Medal (University of Sydney, 1991), an Australian Postgraduate Fellowship (1995) and an ARC Future Fellowship (2017). She has published more than 130 scientific papers and is an inventor of 29 granted US patents. Prior to her employment at UNSW in 2010, she worked as a research scientist at Canon Information Systems Research Australia, where she was involved in research ranging from display and printing device simulations to the development of materials/technology for printing, imaging and display applications. She currently conducts research into the areas of silicon solar cell metallisation and interconnection, optical modelling for photovoltaics and more recently high power lithium ion storage.  She is a member of the SPREE teaching group and has been responsible for convening/lecturing third core silicon photovoltaics courses at UNSW since 2010 and initiating innovations in the teaching space such as the ‘PV Factory’ which is hosted by PV Lighthouse and more recently a gamification prototype for a first-year course in Sustainable Energy.

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