Solar energy in South Africa

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  • February 18, 2013 1:44 pm

8400 MW will come from photovoltaic solar power and another 1000 MW from concentrating solar power.

Solar energy in South Africa
The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) has put R100m into a joint venture between the University of Johannesburg’s Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PITP) company and listed German renewable energy company Singulus Technologies to boost SA’s nascent renewable energy industry.

Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel has mooted that “greening” the South African economy could create 462000 jobs by 2025. SA is battling an unemployment rate that hovers at about 25%, or 4,4-million people.

“It is a South African technology that is at the forefront of thin-film solar technology which is set to replace silicon-based technology in the medium to long term. The IDC supports growing SA’s knowledge economy,” says IDC spokesman Mandla Mpangase.

PITP owns the intellectual property, which is patented worldwide, including in Europe, China, the US, Japan, Korea, Australia, India, Indonesia and Eurasia, the university says.

The company is establishing a semi-commercial plant at Stellenbosch’s Technopark, comprising a full range of research facilities and including “new state of the art in-line diffusion furnaces” (a diffusion furnace is an oven that uses heat and gas to form layers) developed in co-operation with Singulus”, says technology developer Vivian Alberts, who is PITP CEO and a scientist at the University of Johannesburg. PITP already has a successful pilot plant, of about 100m², he says, and this will be incorporated into the larger facility, which will cover about 1500m².

“Thin-film is quite a contested (market) space.

“The past few years have been quite tough on companies … but the market is stabilising now,” says Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies sustainable growth programme manager Peet du Plooy.

World Wide Fund for Nature SA Living Planet Unit head Salien Fakir says SA will have to overcome the perennial hurdle of taking home-grown technology to commercial production. “It’s the challenge we have in SA…. We get very excited about (South African) innovation, but then we have struggled to get a patent to commercial development,” he says, mentioning the demise of dreams over the Joule electric car, and the pebble-bed modular reactor.

The standard solar cell technology uses silicon, which is carbon positive, Prof Alberts says. “In the silicon industry, you need to use ‘negative chemical processes’, which emit carbon dioxide during the production.

“Our technology is completely non-silicon. Also, we use 90% less materials than standard (technology),” he says. Instead of silicon, this technology uses a combination of copper, indium, gallium, selenium and sulphide.

Photovoltaic cells convert solar energy into electrical current. They consist of panels made out of photovoltaic materials, which generate voltage or electrical current when they are exposed to light. Prof Alberts says the issue is not that the elements are rare, but that they have to be pure. “The elements need to be pure, and we don’t purify it in SA because there is no market for purified elements.”

These elements will be imported from Germany, but at least 50% of the final product will be local content, he says. He also highlights that each panel requires only a small quantity of those materials: “A 1m² panel uses about 5g in total of all those materials to produce a 150W device,” he says.

The panel is a quarter of a human hair in thickness.

The most expensive part of the panel is the glass and the electrical connections, but Prof Alberts would not estimate how much each panel would cost, or its efficiency.

At present, there are no manufacturers of thin photovoltaic cells in Africa, he says, adding that this industry is the fastest growing in the world. “It is experiencing 20%-25% market growth.”

Prof Alberts also notes that “local manufacturing is a good model”, especially in light of the government’s push to develop solar farms. However, PITP’s products — the Technopark facility is to continuously improve the technology in terms of cost and efficiency — are more specifically aimed at the global market, Prof Alberts says.

Mr du Plooy says this is a good strategy as the local market is small, and it is also good the technology has the backing of a large German corporation for which it would not be a major product.

The integrated resource plan for electricity (IRP2010) — a long-term electricity capacity plan that projects future demand, how it will be met and at what cost — provides that 42% (or 17800 MW) of new electricity capacity in the period up to 2030 will come from renewable energy sources. Of this, 8400MW will come from photovoltaic solar and another 1000MW from concentrated solar power. The IRP2010 assumed a 300MW annual rollout from this year.

As part of the government’s independent power producer procurement programme, a total of 3725MW will be bought from independent power producers.

In the first window of the programme, solar photovoltaic projects were allocated a total of 631,53MW. The Department of Energy is due to announce the preferred bidders for the second window of the programme soon.

Source: evwind


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