Research that could make solar panels 20% more effective and cost 50% less within five years has been recognised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

Professor Stuart Wenham from the University of New South Wales has uncovered a mechanism that can control hydrogen atoms to correct deficiencies in silicon. The process means that lower-quality silicon could outperform solar modules using higher quality, and more expensive, components.

Professor Wenham’s work was singled out from a number of high profile candidates from across the globe to receive the IET’s largest prize, the £300,000 AF Harbey Engineering Research Prize.

Commenting on the award, Professor Wenham said: “Our research team at UNSW, which has held the world record in silicon solar cell efficiency for many years, has discovered how to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms in silicon and we will be working with the world’s biggest manufacturers to commercialise this low-cost technology. This generous prize will go a long way to helping us take this research to the next stage.”

IET president, Barry Brooks, added: “Professor Wenham has played a pivotal role in the wide scale development of silicon solar cell technology. His pioneering research and internationally recognised leadership in the field will enable commercial exploitation of the technology for the benefit of the global community seeking renewable energy solutions at affordable prices. He is a truly deserving recipient of the IET A F Harvey Engineering Prize and an inspiration to all engineers.”

Professor Wenham believes that his research could be commercialised within the next five years.