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Mark Tidswell gifts $AU200,000 to School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) to maintain leading education for students

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A longtime advocate and supporter of renewable energies, Mark has given generously to SPREE over the years, to ensure the next generation of photovoltaic engineering students receive the support they need. 

Mark’s philanthropy – driven by empowering students, investing in their future, and elevating opportunities – all started with his children’s local school.

The school Mark’s children attended operated off-grid. When he walked into their classroom, back in 2000, he noticed that the lights would dim each time a teacher turned on the kettle. Partnering with an electrical engineer, Mark upgraded the whole school with a state-of-the-art PV system.

Mark Tidswell
Image: Mark Tidswell

“It was very simple, nothing like today’s technology – just a little display panel in the classroom,” explains Mark. “But it showed the students what the PV system was producing and just how much energy was being used. So, it was also an educational tool which showed how one piece of infrastructure could get the whole school back on track.” 

It wasn’t the first time he had been inspired to involve himself in the renewable energy cause, but seeing that little display panel in his children’s classroom definitely started something for Mark. 

In 2016, Mark gave his first gift of $650,000 to UNSW. The generous gift started the Tidswell Family Women in Engineering Scholarship in support of female undergraduates as well as a postdoc research fellow position within SPREE. This has enabled the postdoc to supervise PhD and 4th year thesis students, as well as engage in a number of research projects including voltage analysis for the Energy Security Board, the impact of batteries on residential and commercial customers, the Enova community energy microgrid in Byron and the SunSPoT solar mapping tool.

Most importantly, Mark’s giving has enabled the installation of a solar array on the roof of UNSW’s Botany Street carpark. The solar array, due for completion in November 2020, will serve the dual function of powering electric vehicle charging stations while acting as an educational tool for SPREE students.

“I’m here to create a pathway,” Mark explains. “These students are a lot smarter than I am and they’re going to make a huge impact in this realm. My role is to give them a leg up, so that they can pursue their natural path.”

When Mark heard that the disruption wrought by COVID-19 had jeopardised the contract of a teaching academic, he gifted $200,000 to ensure they’d be kept on staff. 

“If I can help a SPREE lecturer remain on-board to educate students, I’m happy to support the renewal of their contract,” he says. 

“Universities are there for the people,” Mark explains, in response to why he is motivated to give during this time, and why he encourages others to seriously consider supporting universities now more than ever. 

“If you really believe in philanthropy in terms of making generational benefits, then you have to support these institutions ... They provide a role that is unique. I don’t want to see (universities) serve just a small percentage of the population.”

For over two decades, UNSW has been a world leader in research and the commercialisation of high-performance silicon solar cells. With energy becoming an increasingly important world-wide issue, the breadth of UNSW’s teaching in Photovoltaic Engineering (the practice of turning sunshine directly into electricity by using solar cells) was increased to include Renewable Energy Engineering, forming the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE.) An innovator in education and research (and the record holder for the most efficient silicon solar cell for over two decades), SPREE works closely with industry to provide game changing solutions to the sector. 

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