A new material in solar cell design

They’re flexible, cheap to produce and simple to make – which is why perovskites are the hottest new material in solar cell design. Engineers at the University of New South Wales have achieved a new world efficiency record in solar cell design.

Dr Anita Ho-Baillie, Senior Research Fellow at the UNSW School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering and Program Manager for Perovskite Solar Cell Research at the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP), has claimed for UNSW the highest efficiency rating with the largest perovskite solar cells to date.

She said her UNSW team had achieved a 12.1 per cent efficiency rating for a 16 cm2 perovskite solar cell, the largest single perovskite photovoltaic cell certified with the highest energy conversion efficiency, independently confirmed by the international testing centre in Bozeman, Montana.

“Perovskites came out of nowhere in 2009, with an efficiency rating of 3.8 per cent, and have since grown in leaps and bounds. These results place UNSW amongst the best groups in the world producing state-of-the-art high performance perovskite solar cells. And I think we can get to 24 per cent within a year or so.”

Perovskite is the fastest-advancing solar technology to date, and is attractive because the compound is cheap to produce and simple to manufacture, and can even be sprayed onto surfaces.

Although perovskites hold much promise for cost-effective solar energy, they are currently prone to fluctuating temperatures and moisture, making them last only a few months without protection. Dr Ho-Baillie’s team is working to extend perovskites durability.

Most of the world’s commercial solar cells are made from a refined, highly purified silicon crystal and, like the most efficient commercial silicon cells (known as PERC cells and invented at UNSW), need to be baked above 800˚C in multiple high temperature steps.

Perovskites are made at low temperatures and are 200 times thinner than silicon cells.

Perovskite is a mineral of calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO3) that was discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1839 and named for Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski. Now the term ‘perovskite’ refers to any mineral with the same type of crystal structure as CaTiO3.

“We will capitalise on the advantages of perovskites and continue to tackle issues important for commercialisation, like scaling to larger areas and improving cell durability,” said ATSE Fellow, Professor Martin Green AM, Director of ACAP.

Anita Ho-Baillie with Martin Green.

Anita Ho-Baillie with Martin Green.

New STEM Careers Resource

Australia's Science Channel has launched the ultimate destination to give students the best start to finding a career.

Ultimate Careers is a FREE collection of tools, including a magazine, app and designated channel on Australia's Science Channel, designed to help your students discover their interests and investigate career options.

The app allows users to play a game to discover their interests and the types of careers they could pursue based on those interests. The Ultimate Careers magazine (previously Ultimate Science Guide) helps readers navigate the next step by offering study tips, highlighting success stories and outlining hot options for future careers; and the Ultimate Careers channel provides students with a selection of inspiring videos and articles from people working within STEM fields.

Opportunity for students in the Brisbane area

As part of the World Science Festival Brisbane, students or teams of students can enter the Energy Innovation Challenge. The competition involves submitting a pitch ideas about energy sustainability via an on-line entry. Successful pitches will be chosen to be presented in person at the World Science Festival.


If you are interested, expressions of interest must be submitted by Thursday 2 February 2017, with the pitch to be submitted by 24 February 2017.

Huonville High School Winners

On 16, Jan 2017, the winners of the Zayed Future Energy Prize were announced in Abu Dhabi during Sustainability Week.

The winners included five schools, one each from different regions around the globe. We would like to congratulate Huonville High School, Tasmania,  as the winner of the Oceania Region. We reported in the STELR News in November last year, when they were announced as finalists for a $USD 100,000 prize which will be used it to develop an energy hub in the school. It will be linked to an existing energy hub at Greening Australia's Sustainability Learning Centre in Hobart.

Huonville HS became a STELR school in 2014 with assistance from the Pratt Foundation. 

You can see the announcement of all the prizewinners, including a video explaining the Huonville HS project at The National website.

Hybrid solar, wind and battery project in Queensland

A world-leading project combining solar, wind and battery storage will be built near Hughenden in North Queensland, delivering renewable energy on demand.

A Windlab and Eurus Energy joint venture to build the first $120 million phase of Kennedy Energy Park –  consisting of 19.2 MW (AC) solar photovoltaic (PV), 21.6 MW wind and 2 MW/4 MWh battery storage – will have up to $18 million in recoupable grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).


The project is a pilot for the next phase, ‘Big Kennedy’, which is planned to include up to 600 MW of solar PV and 600 MW of wind and the potential for multiple storage options such as large-scale battery and regional pumped hydro storage.

ARENA CEO Mr Ivor Frischknecht said the project would provide reliable and affordable power and highlight a pathway towards around-the-clock renewable energy.

“Kennedy Energy Park will be the first time a combined large-scale solar, wind and battery installation has connected to Australia’s national electricity market,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Wind will generate power throughout the day and night, while solar ramps up during peak demand times when the sun is shining. Battery storage will smooth out power delivery from both sources, dispatching it when it’s needed most and increasing overall reliability. The project is scheduled for completion in 2018.

STELR Mentors in 2017

STELR staff, Peter Pentland and Pennie Stoyles, are based in Melbourne and can easily visit schools in Victoria to talk to staff and run professional development. STELR also employs a number of mentors on a part time basis, to visit schools in other states.

Pictured here discussing the STELR Sustainable Housing kits are (L to R) Greg Smith , Geoff Lewis, Pennie Stoyles, Tony Diercks, Ken Walker, Deb Smith and John Christensen.

Pictured here discussing the STELR Sustainable Housing kits are (L to R) Greg Smith , Geoff Lewis, Pennie Stoyles, Tony Diercks, Ken Walker, Deb Smith and John Christensen.

Current STELR Mentors are:

  • John Christensen based in Far North Queensland
  • Tony Diercks, based in Adelaide
  • Geoff Lewis, based in Perth
  • Deb Smith, based in Brisbane
  • Greg Smith, based in Darwin
  • Ken Walker, based in Geelong.

On 12 and 13 December 2016, STELR mentors flew in from around Australia met at the ATSE office for training in new STELR resources and also to discuss STELR for 2017.

STELR Mentors can come to your school to demonstrate STELR equipment and curriculum resources and/or assist with STELR professional learning.

If you are interested in having a STELR mentor to visit your school during 2017, Please contact Pennie Stoyles, STELR Program Manager.

Innovative school energy project in Victoria

STELR Renewable Energy equipment was featured at the launch of a new Year 10 program at Patterson River Secondary College in Victoria last week.

Under the program, Year 10 students will be given the opportunity to explore subjects including electricity systems, solar generation, battery storage, data collection and analysis.

As part of this initiative, the school library will also be upgraded to become an ‘energy laboratory’, where energy data measured by sensors can be studied by students.

Students will use data sources to make recommendations to the school to reduce energy wastage whilst attempting to maximise student comfort levels.

College Principal Daniel Dew said that “Patterson River SC is pursuing the target of being an energy provider for both itself and members of the community in a manner that will allow students to coordinate elements of the business.” 

The school has been working with Prof Michael Breer from The University of Melbourne and Dr Iain Jennings from 1Circle to develop a pilot community energy model for Victorian schools.

Patterson River Secondary College students demonstrating STELR equipment to Principal, Daniel Dew, Minister Lily D' Ambrosio and Member for Carrum, Sonya Kilkenny.

Patterson River Secondary College students demonstrating STELR equipment to Principal, Daniel Dew, Minister Lily D' Ambrosio and Member for Carrum, Sonya Kilkenny.

In launching the program, the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said:

"This initiative will help to educate the next generation of energy professionals and create pathways for students into careers in renewable energy, energy efficiency and new energy technologies."

Earlier this year Patterson River SC purchased the STELR Renewable Energy materials to incorporate into the program, thereby giving students strong grounding in the science behind both wind and solar energy. 

STELR Program wins $250,000 grant

The  STELR program has been awarded a $250,000 grant by the Federal Government to encourage girls into STEM subjects.

STELR will use the grant to produce a series of up to 20 video profiles using female role models in STEM industries to encourage girls to engage in STEM fields.

The grant was one of 24 made to a variety of Australian organisations, totalling $3.9 million, under Round 1 funding from the $8 million Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grant program under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The program aims to encourage girls and women to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The STELR videos will be integrated into its national school education program, cover a range of STEM fields and involve all states and territories.

The profiles will consist of interviews overlayed with video and still images of the subject at work to ensure that the videos are authentic and relevant to young women. The video profiles will be posted on the STELR website, supported by classroom activities and supporting curriculum materials and embedded into STELR web-based lessons.

The aim of the videos is to inspire girls to pursue STEM careers and boost enrolments of girls in STEM subjects in senior years of schooling by highlighting study pathways.

STELR is now used in nearly 550 Australian secondary schools (around 20 per cent) with an estimated 55,000 secondary students and more than 1,500 teachers involved each year.

ANU claims solar thermal world record

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have set a world record for efficiency for a solar thermal dish generating steam that could be used for power stations.

The team designed and built a new receiver for the solar concentrator dish at ANU, halving losses and achieving a 97 per cent conversion of sunlight into steam.

The ANU solar thermal dish. Image: Stuart Hay, ANU.

The ANU solar thermal dish. Image: Stuart Hay, ANU.

The breakthrough could lead to the generation of cheaper base-load electricity from renewable energy and help lower carbon emissions which cause global warming.

"When our computer model told us the efficiency that our design was going to achieve, we thought it was alarmingly high," said Dr John Pye, from the ANU Research School of Engineering.

"But when we built it and tested it, sure enough, the performance was amazing."

The ANU team has already had commercial interest in the solar thermal system.

Concentrating solar thermal systems use reflectors to concentrate sunlight and generate steam, which can drive conventional power station turbines. It can be combined with efficient heat storage systems and can supply power on demand at a significantly lower cost than solar energy from photovoltaic panels that has been stored in batteries.

The global concentrating solar thermal capacity has grown by a factor of 10 in the past decade, with some of the largest installations in Spain, United States, and South Africa.

"Ultimately the work in this project is all about reducing the cost of concentrating solar thermal energy. Our aim is to get costs down to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, so that this technology will be competitive," he said.

"This new design could result in a 10 per cent reduction in the cost of solar thermal electricity.

At 500 square metres, the ANU solar concentrator is the largest of its kind in the world. It focusses the power of 2,100 suns onto the receiver, through which water is pumped and heated to 500 degrees Celsius.

The new receiver design is a cavity that resembles a top hat with narrow opening and a wide brim. Water pipes spiral around the underside of the brim and up into the hat.

The sunlight is focused onto the pipes, heating the water as it enters at the brim and spirals up into the cavity. The water reaches peak temperature in the deepest reaches of the cavity, which minimises heat loss. Heat which does leak out of the cavity can be absorbed by the cooler water around the hat's brim.

The power of the concentrated radiation is so strong that it can damage componentry if not aligned properly, so the team calibrated the dish using the full moon.

More information for teachers:

The Clean Energy Council has published a fact sheet outlining the different types of concentrated thermal technology.

Nova has published a teaching unit on solar thermal technology.

Tesla solar roof tiles

The Tesla company recently launched two new products. One was a new version of their Powerwall battery . The Powerwall 2 has double the storage capacity of the first Powerwall. The second and more surprising announcement was that of his new solar roof tiles. 

Tesla's Elon Musk at the launch

Tesla's Elon Musk at the launch

These roof tiles are made of textured glass and have embedded solar panels. The have been produced in four styles and made to resemble terracotta tiles, slate and shingles. Tesla’s Elon Musk, said he wanted to produce a product that looks better, lasts longer and is better insulated than a normal roof, with the added bonus that is will cost less than a normal roof and solar panels combined. Tesla’s aim is to combine their three technologies of solar roofs, electricity storage and solar transport.

You can see the full launch of the two new products in a 30-minute video on the Tesla website or a shorter (3-minute version) version at Bloomberg technology