Aussie solar scientists call on major parties to keep ARENA

Australian solar scientists have called on both major political parties to rethink their policy on cutting funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, saying the move could “unintentionally kill” solar cell research in Australia.

Martin Green, from UNSW, and Andrew Blakers, from ANU, rated as the country’s two leading solar researchers, said Australia solar research could be lost overseas if the proposed funding cuts – by both the Coalition and Labor – became law.

The Coalition has proposed to remove $1.3 billion of unspent funds from ARENA and revoke its ability to issue grants. Labor says it will reserve $300 million of funding for large-scale solar thermal projects and community energy, but will then cut the remaining $1 billion of grant funding.

Green and Blakers say this could be disastrous for solar cell and other research in Australia, and the two major parties do not appear to understand what they are doing.

“I don’t think this is a deliberate attempt to wipe out research into photovoltaics in this country – it’s more a case that the implications have slipped below the radar – but that’s what could happen,” said Green, a pioneer of solar cells who has led the field for much of his 40 years at UNSW.

“Continuity in funding is essential in solar cell research, so if you lose your funding for even a year or so, a lot of your expertise disappears as teams are disbanded. Our researchers would find employment overseas very easily, and we’d lose that expertise.”

The two scientists also warned that “scores of early-career researchers stand to lose their jobs next year, leaving many PhD students in limbo and severely curtailing training and expertise in the renewable sector.”

Green and Blakers were also among 62 leading researchers who have already protested against the move and written to government, and more another 130 more researchers and 61 undergraduate students wrote to Environment Minister Greg Hunt, making the same call.

(Top image: Prof Martin Green of UNSW.)

© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson