I received an email a couple of days ago from one of Australia’s most respected young solar energy scientists, Nicole Keuper, with some devastating news: the world renowned Australian Research Council Photovoltaics Centre of Excellence, based at the University of New South Wales, has had its funding slashed by the Australian Research Council. It will lose $25 million over the next 7 years.
Many people have heard the story of Dr Zengrong Shi, who set up Suntech Power – the world’s second largest PV company – after studying at the UNSW research centre. Like Dr Shi, many of the centre’s past students have gone on to become world leaders in solar PV.
The centre’s current students – it takes 60 postgraduate students at a time – are Australia’s best and brightest young scientists and engineers. Many of them want to study and work in Australia – after all, we’re one of the sunniest countries in the world, and are beginning to make a huge contribution to developing solar PV technology, largely due to the UNSW Research Centre.
This decision makes it much more likely that these students will move overseas, taking with them the potential for the creation of new industries, companies and new jobs in Australia.
Whilst the Centre will not be closing its doors tomorrow, its ground breaking 2nd and 3rd generation research will be difficult to fund going forward.
Surely this is a decision that, if enough attention is drawn to it, could be easily reversed in the next two and a half weeks of election campaigning?
All political parties have said that they support kick-starting domestic renewable energy industries – it creates jobs and opportunities for young Australians, and will be the basis of the 21st century economy.
John Doerr, the early venture capitalist behind Netscape Communications, Amazon.com, Google, and other pioneering tech firms that went from scrappy start-ups to household names, is placing big bets on the emerging renewable energy and green technology sector. He believes it will become as lucrative as information technology and biotechnology and that ‘green’ is the biggest trend in the economies of the future.
“This field of greentech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” says Doerr.
Why doesn’t the Australian research Council agree?
For more information, Muriel Watt has written a good article over at Climate Spectator.