Throughout his career Professor Aberle has performed leading-edge research across the entire portfolio of crystalline silicon solar cells. He has published extensively and his work has a high impact on the field, with more than 2,000 citations to his name. From 1998 to 2008 he was a tenured professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney where he headed the Thin-Film Silicon Solar Cell Group and was a Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council’s Photovoltaics Centre of Excellence. He was also part of the UNSW team that established and taught the world’s first undergraduate engineering degree in photovoltaics (PV) and solar energy.
1. Where does your interest in clean energy stem from?
I grew up in the Black Forest in Germany and witnessed major environmental problems, notably due to acid rain and water pollution, during my teenage years in the 1970s. This made me very sensitive to environmental issues, which was the driving force behind my decision as a young adult to devote my career to solar PV electricity. I was one of the very first people in Germany who did a PhD on solar cells.
2. What top two steps does the industry need to take to be cost competitive with traditional energy generation? How can they be achieved?Article continues below…
In the PV sector, what is mainly required are ongoing technological innovations that improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness (dollar per watt) of solar cells and modules. Combined with the learning curve effect due to ever increasing factory sizes and production rates, this will ensure that PV will provide a significant share of global electricity by the middle of the century.
3. What has been the greatest achievement of the clean energy industry, or your sector, in the past 5 years?
The manufacturing cost of PV modules has been halved in the last five years. This is an amazing achievement that has contributed enormously to the sector’s stellar growth rates over these years. PV electricity is now approaching grid parity in many sunny countries, and many experts believe that in the next 10–15 years, the manufacturing cost of PV modules can be halved yet again. The prospects for a global proliferation of PV electricity are thus fantastic.
4. Where do you see the solar energy sector going in the short and long term?
Before the end of this century, I expect PV to be the dominant source of electricity, globally.
5. What are the top two government incentives/policy measures you would like to see implemented today? Why?
You either punish the polluters or you reward the clean producers. Rewarding the good guys is much easier than punishing the bad ones. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. The German feed-in tariff system has been hugely successful and shows the world how it’s done quickly and efficiently. So my advice to governments in the world would be: set up a German-style feed-in tariff system for clean energies and then lean back and enjoy watching what happens.
6. What promising project/technology is the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore currently developing or working with partners to implement?
Our focus is on silicon-based solar cells, modules and systems, as well as on solar and energy efficient buildings. Together with the industry, we are developing advanced or novel technologies that bring down the dollar per watt cost of solar systems.
7. What one piece of advice would you give new entrants to the clean energy industry?
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.