South African Photovoltaics

In the September 4th edition of South Africa’s Mining Weekly, in a report entitled “SA mulls cost and benefits of mega solar project,” South Africa’s Eskom power utility is about to build a 100 MW solar thermal electric generating plant, using the “power tower” design (see our post “Solar Thermal Power” which describes design options).

In the report, Eskom’s resources and strategy division renewable-energy corporate specialist Dr Louis van Heerden explained that “central-receiver technology … concentrates the sun’s energy through multiple large mirrors, using the concentrated thermal energy to produce steam to drive a conventional steam turbine for electricity generation.


The energy concentration is achieved by a field of large sun-tracking mirrors (called heliostats), which reflect the sunlight to a receiver, mounted on a central tower in the middle of the mirror field.

A heat-transfer medium (molten salt) is pumped through the receiver, absorbing the highly-concentrated radiation reflected by the heliostats. The heated fluid is then circulated through a heat exchanger, where the thermal energy is used to generate steam and power a turbine.”

South African solar doesn’t end there. Back on February 11th in “Photovoltaics are the Wild Card” we referenced a report from South Africa on breakthrough photovoltaics. In this earlier story “SA solar research eclipses rest of the world” by Willem Steenkamp, they report “In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists, led by Professor Vivian Alberts, has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology” and “The South African solar panels consist of a thin layer of a unique metal alloy that converts light into energy.”

The photo-responsive alloy can operate on virtually all flexible surfaces. The new panels are approximately five microns thick (a human hair is 20 microns thick) while the older silicon panels are 350 microns thick. Alberts claims the cost of the South African technology is a fraction of the cost for less effective silicon solar panels.”

This claim is corroborated in today’s story in the South Africa Mining Weekly, where alongside the report about Eskom’s solar thermal project there is this: “The University of Johannesburg’s Professor Vivian Alberts, from the department of physics, has developed solar panels that may just take this technology further into the main-stream, owing to the cost reductions he has achieved.

Alberts’ invention is five micro-metres thick, combining several semiconductor materials which are as effective, if not more so, than silicon. As it uses no silicon, costs are dramatically lower. It makes use of normal window glass as a substrate, with molybdenum applied as back contact, followed by the core component, being a compound semiconductor comprising five elements – copper, indium, gallium, selenium and sulphide, replacing the silicon – with cadmium sulphide as a buffer layer, followed by an intrinsic zinc oxide layer and, finally, a conductive zinc-oxide layer. The most expensive part of the panel is the glass,” said Alberts.

The pilot plant has shown the production cost per watt to be less than one South African Rand (which is about US $0.15), verified for a 25-MW production facility, assuming a 10% efficiency and average production yield of 85%,” Alberts claimed in the Mining Weekly Report. Alberts went on to say he predicted retail costs for this locally manufactured photovoltaic panel would be one-fifth the current cost of imported panels.

These are very huge claims. So who will be first to market with volumes of inexpensive photovoltaics? A South African consortium, or Silicon Valley’s own Nanosolar, or someone else? Like electric cars, the technology of photovoltaic panels is advancing rapidly. They are both transformative technologies and they are becoming increasingly economically viable.


9 Responses to “South African Photovoltaics”
  1. alan ward says:

    an australian inovation electrolyte flow battery which can be emtyed and rechageed if mass produced and is already fuctioning on king island wind farm will make energy on demand any size system from 12 to 24 volt and powerstations and supply chain storage micro depending on amount captured say power line connectionsfor any green project and will allow with new ligghter version under research a fillable electric car time to fill electrolyte back into batery power pack from recharging 15to 20 minutes at the cost of a normal battery and lasts 3times loger because of this once massed produced.

  2. alan ward says:

    If they do a full 1000 * artificial tree if workable from carbonate reasearch and full spectrum solar panels come in after the 25% needed in Australia from solar wind if then 80% at cost these or any other technology if they do research on cleaning nuclear if they replace carbon that does not work with what does American algae and bacteria for carbon if they combine this with carbon treatment as sequestrations only work in some rock strata if they replace those that do with those that don’t they will be ahead no matter what vehicles they use if they use very efficent diesel and bio diesel in all vehicles if they limit the amount of carbon from plane design and jets they may come in below estimates so that carbon neutral works all the time until hydrogen and if they make laws about hydrogen emissions and if electrical means work we will be successful and will we make cool green houses and do not terra form any more our organs extensions machines and planet we should hit target engine efficiency calculations efficiency all economic systems if we limited the amount of polution from military action too these things and others we should be successful and neutral and below target manageable for mankind if we make laws for Australian nuclear use if we rely on America nuclear over ours fundamentally only limiting nuclear in Australia and working on starwars we should be military under par while green and could bring in any current vehicles on roads combustion our economies neutral not neutral plus yeast break down ethanol and neutral and plant some trees we will win engineering terms and diesels and piping into our grain producing aquifers down into them water and our river wastes and NASA filters 7,000 domestic use we can save Adalaide and farmers domestically, IN AUSTRALIA, and show the world economies how instead of what we are only very small contributers, add solar and very efficient diesel ships and air ships.

  3. alan ward says:

    diversify green full spectrum hygrogen from sun electrolysis and pill hydrogen are ready storages now are now more effienct than petrol cars and +electric and ready diversity and add solar outside all bissenses will save connected grid and also the current solar for seven to ten years diversify these energies and have solution over market over choice over forces now and in near future hydrogen solar too diversify al technologies as there are replacements for every thing including coal steel and products can thus be limited and always around use products but in available strata rock and other processes and algie as although effenol is less carbon it has more nitrogen and cancerious so solutions need to be other combustibles but combustibles might not be solution even hydrogen depending on laws and escape and planet obsorbtion.terra form = earh forming climate is first to change always with plants animals second terra = earth changing=combustion = gases,over temperature,terra on earth forming a new tecnology change back obsorb carbon and terra atmoshere 1000 times artifical tree carbonate storae although expensive seems to be a solution, not on web.develope, terra atmospere cooling = termadinamics thermocline and oceans= logic gyer creatures bing and small influences adaption/ stresses evolution, or creationism.

  4. alan ward says:

    and thorium nuclear now for our relianance 500 years waste max totally save shut down for australia geological time nothing polution as compared to other systems half a million years and 20 40 years research possibly to clean up to 500 years but good for weapons compared and technologies batteries too compare to thorium now

  5. alan ward says:

    green technologies frighten the rich and the nations in that anything with zero emissions is extremly hard to clean up and not endlist un like unlimited renewables green totally = zero work effort on human side work equations less input more effort so who would work for something with zero inflation to capital carbon, while i can only think of things grown as beening cleanable and neutral biodesil being a liquid more cleanable and further from petrol like gas, how ever solid is probaly more cleanable and runs big engines in use terra form tech so to develop clean earth to costs and biodesil algea will do so if? plus other solutions i one find focus fusion as proven two because to this types of worlds because rearches have made advancements in most effective effiences to the way i read sciences it is a do able solution like other full on green projects to carbon is unstoppable and so to zero except for products hydrogen can be made with a electrolyzer and other hydrogen maufacture now and others comming so pill or other solutions can be home grown and a car by general motors in five to ten years cost effective to finacial solutions systems current othe wise taxs can pay this and electric solutions as a 2 minuit battery is now fillable how about going taing fuel anyware this is it what would world be like and worl ecconmies these are all possible technologies doable today and unstoppable.

  6. alan ward says:

    full spectrum technologies a lot easier an d safer than carbon to develop and tech spinoffs selters homes middle man scenario and military our designed society sharing equals our culture what if full spectrum came about very likely or all buildings covered and spaces or all plants were eatable and medicinal in our societs if bees were multi dispersed culture to save propogation / pollination and monoculutres monoculture dispersed green inbetween flowering fruit farms, one solution and fish too exit growing heathy areas there only fish territories when swim out save earth, over fish stocks, acidfication solutions earths gyer mechanisms.

  7. alan ward says:

    seed saving genetics saves terra forming frunaway carbon all genetic saving companies and law and the over emmissions hydrogen all things must be cyclic or stored solid liquid gas systems even qyer effects ozones over water must be in moderation hydrogen to to hydrogen cycle thus terea earth form= over shading technologies and chemistries? so my solutions.

  8. alan ward says:

    over save instend of spend balance over other worldly ecconomies balance over war out comes desired over defficts,= ammerican china buggets australia,? who pays. to carbon exchange and alter small to big capital future funds china india, world, over captial slavery.save over green over green house and oceans over omega 3 thalcrest over pigs over fish over third world over rubbish over distrobution returns for eggs clean ups equals solution over free over our transport these, over areas, solution clean water distrobute work and polution for protein eggs and vegetables.minium, solution outcomes easy.

  9. Ed Ring says:

    Alan – clean it up a bit – some interesting ideas but hard to follow!

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