Special Adviser to the Australian Government on Low Emissions Technology, Dr Alan Finkel, gave a keynote address on green technology and sustainable development at the 2021 Global Technology Summit this week.
The summit was themed ‘Global Meets Local’. It took an in-depth look at the changing nature of technology and geopolitics, assessed its global effects, and considered the emerging realities. Held in a hybrid format, the summit convened industry experts, policymakers, scholars, scientists, and other stakeholders from all over the world to deliberate over three days on three comprehensive sub-themes:
The Future of Technology: Resilience and Partnerships
Technology & Innovation: Roadmap to Sustainability and Inclusion
Glocalizing Emerging Technologies: Building Digital Capabilities.
I would like to thank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for inviting me to provide an address on green technology and sustainable development.
My focus is on the history and future of solar energy.
My story begins in a galaxy not so far away.
The setting is 4.6 billion years ago. A dense cloud of interstellar gas and dust is forming in space. It is collapsing under its own weight and starting to form a disc.
At the centre of this spinning, swirling disc, gravity is pulling material into a core. The pressure builds until it becomes so great that hydrogen atoms begin to fuse and form helium atoms, releasing an enormous amount of solar energy.
With that, a star is born.
Our sun is born.
Material farther out in the disc is also clumping together, forming the planets of our solar system.
Fast forward more than 4 billion years to 400 million years ago and the sun is still radiating solar energy onto its third closest planet, Earth.
The first trees are reaching for the stars. They’re drawing energy from the sun, which is being stored in their branches, leaves and trunks.
Forests grow and die, many are buried, and under tremendous heat and pressure they transform into coal, oil and gas.
Less than ten thousand years ago, humans learned to regularly gather wood from the forest floor, and light a fire to convert the stored solar energy into heat energy for cooking and keeping warm.
Energy on demand transformed human society. And there was an even greater leap forward when we discovered the solar energy stored in coal, oil and natural gas.
However, we eventually realised that fossil fuels were causing dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases to be released into our atmosphere, leading to changes in our climate.
Our use of energy would need to transform again.
And we would need technology to lead the way.
Now fast forward to 1989 and plentiful solar energy is shining through the laboratory windows at the University of New South Wales, where solar cells are being tested.
These early passivated emitter and rear contact solar cells, called PERC, are recording efficiencies of more than 22 percent. It is a huge leap forward. Australia has developed the technology to efficiently convert solar energy into electricity.
Today, PERC solar cells are manufactured all over the world, including by Waree and Vikram Solar, two of India’s leading solar cell manufacturers.
And solar is at the heart of India’s energy transition plan for the future. India is leading the world in large scale solar deployment and making progress towards the ambitious goal of 100 gigawatts of solar generation capacity by the end of next year.
Meanwhile, Australia is leading the world in small scale solar deployment, with the highest uptake of rooftop solar in the world.
Initiatives at both ends of the scale are key to accelerating the deployment of clean energy.
Australia and India can change the world by working together to hasten the deployment of solar technology. That is why I’m excited to be leading work towards an India-Australia partnership with ultra low-cost solar at the core.
The story of our sun’s formation is spectacular. It has been emitting solar energy since before our planet was formed, and supporting life on Earth from the start. But its job is not yet done.
Australia and India are showing the world that solar energy has the potential to support life on Earth well into the future.
May the Force be with you.
- Read about the 2021 Global Technology Summit
- Read about the Office of the Special Adviser to the Australian Government on Low Emissions Technology
- Read the Low Emissions Technology Statement 2021
- Find out more about Australia’s climate change strategies