The UNSW graduate known as "The Sun King", solar cell entrepreneur Dr Zhengrong Shi, has painted a bright picture for the future of solar power during a visit to the University to speak to engineering graduates.
Dr Shi, founder of solar panel manufacturer Suntech Power and one of China's richest men, said solar power would achieve "grid parity" - that is, will cost no more than coal-fired electricity - by 2012, providing an enormous boost for the solar industry and, hopefully, a marked reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaking prior to his address to graduates from the Faculty of Engineering, Dr Shi said the solar industry had to move fast to capitalise on opportunities.
"We do believe photovoltaic power can become a mainstream power supply but there's a lot of work to address," he said.
"First of all is cost reduction. The industry still relies on subsidies (and) it is great that (governments) have started to subsidise - but we have to capture this opportunity to quickly reduce manufacturing costs. I think the first milestone for the industry is to reach grid parity as quickly as possible."
Dr Shi, who completed his PhD at UNSW in 1992, founded Suntech Power in Wuxi, in China's Jiangsu Province, in 2001. He has since built the company into the world's largest solar module manufacturer.
He said the photovoltaic cell industry would expand in coming years as a result of three key factors: increased investment; dramatic growth in the scale of manufacturing, with Suntech alone expecting its annual production capacity of solar panels to reach one gigawatt of power by the end of this year - the equivalent of two power stations; and finally, new technologies introduced into current production from cutting-edge second and third-generation solar cell research.
Dr Shi also said Australia had an important role to play in combating climate change as a leading developer of new technologies. He said the nation's relatively small market and limited finance for investment in production meant it would be more practical to focus on being a supplier of technology and talent to the rest of the world.
"Many people talk about Australia losing talent and losing a lot of technology but my view is that Australia is more like a technology incubator," he said.
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