Solar Power Using An Alloy Film Better Than Silicon
Further to: "Off-The-Grid" Right Now here is some great news. Starting with following two articles - a very interesting technology to follow up on.
..."solar photovoltaic technology can be produced in any desired amount, from a few milliwatts to many megawatts, if so desired. It is not necessary to erect large power stations to serve a community with energy from this technology.
A typical middle-class suburban family needs only about 30 square metres (about the size of a living room) of solar panels to supply all of its electricity needs."..
This highly efficient Copper-Indium-Gallium-Diselenide (CIGS) alloy eclipses Silicon and should finally make solar energy possible.
By Willem Steenkamp
In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun.
This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past.
The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies.
The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers - in short all the mod-cons of the modern house.
Nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the SA invention
The new technology should be available in South Africa within a year and through a special converter, energy can be fed directly into the wiring of existing houses. New powerful storage units will allow energy storage to meet demands even in winter. The panels are so efficient they can operate through a Cape Town winter. while direct sunlight is ideal for high-energy generation, other daytime light also generates energy via the panels.
A team of scientists led by University of Johannesburg (formerly Rand Afrikaans University) scientist Professor Vivian Alberts achieved the breakthrough after 10 years of research. The South African technology has now been patented across the world.
One of the world leaders in solar energy, German company IFE Solar Systems, has invested more than R500-million in the South African invention and is set to manufacture 500 000 of the panels before the end of the year at a new plant in Germany.
Production will start next month and the factory will run 24 hours a day, producing more than 1 000 panels a day to meet expected demand.
Another large German solar company is negotiating with the South African inventors for rights to the technology, while a South African consortium of businesses are keen to build local factories.
The new, highly efficient and cheap alloy solar panel is much more efficient than the costly old silicone solar panels.
International experts have admitted that nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the South African invention.
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, which means it could in future find a host of other applications.
Alberts said the new panels are approximately five microns thick (a human hair is 20 microns thick) while the older silicon panels are 350 microns thick. the cost of the South African technology is a fraction of the less effective silicone solar panels.
Alberts said in Switzerland it was already compulsory for all new houses to include solar technology to lessen energy demands on national grids.
"And that was the older, less effective technology. With our hours of sunlight, we will on average generate twice as much energy than, for instance, European countries."
While South African scientists developed and patented the new, super-effective alloy solar panels, other companies have developed new, super-efficient storage batteries and special converters to change the energy into the power source of a particular country (220 volts in South Africa).
Eskom spokesperson Carin de Villiers said any new power supply that lessened the load on Eskom was to be welcomed.
She said Eskom was also doing its own research on solar energy.
"In fact, we are currently investigating building what will probably be the largest solar power plant, in the Northern Cape - a 100-megawatt facility."
She added that Eskom was also researching wind and fuel-cell technology as alternative energy sources.
This article was originally published on page 1 of The Saturday Argus on February 11, 2006
Energy security has become one of the hottest political topics in the last few years with the prospects of skyrocketing oil prices and shortages. Along with the looming dangers of climate change, the urgency of alternatives to CO2 emitting energy sources is becoming more obvious by the day. One of the most important actions to counter these challenges is the establishment of alternative energy sources such as solar energy. Latest research by South African scientists have taken us one step further to realising these goals.
Solar power has traditionally been differentiated into solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (or PV for short) systems. The photo-voltaic effect is a phenomenon that depends on quantum physics, and allows specific materials to directly convert solar radiation to electricity. The photo-voltaic effect is used in solar panels, that have been powering spacecraft for decades and have recently been making their presence felt in supplying electricity to free-standing locations on earth, like telephone towers and pump systems on farms.
However, the panels available commercially today are almost all based on high-purity silicon as the photo-voltaic material, and these panels are much more expensive than the equivalent amount of coal, petrol or gas.
The only way to make photovoltaic energy more widely used, is to make devices (including solar panels) that are much cheaper than the current silicon-based devices. The most promising PV material identified to date is Copper-Indium-Gallium-Diselenide (CIGS).
CIGS is much more efficient than silicon at converting incident sunlight into an electric current: Less than one micron of CIGS absorbs more than 99% of available incident solar energy, compared to 350 microns of silicon to do the same job.
Despite the excitement around CIGS, significant cost savings compared to silicon were not achieved, despite 20 years of research. However, a new development has made the picture considerably brighter.
Cost-saving CIGS solar panels
Prof Vivian Alberts of the Department of Physics at the Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa and team have developed and patented a novel manufacturing technique that finally makes it possible to construct CIGS solar panels at a very low cost. The method is easily upscalable to industrial output levels, while remaining much cheaper to produce than conventional silicon solar panels.
Work done over the last two years indicates that panels can be produced in commercial volumes at a cost of about R 500 for a 50 Watt panel. This is much cheaper than existing solar panels available on the market. CIGS is a remarkably stable material and conversion efficiencies should be sustainable for 15-20 years in any given panel.
RAU physicists are currently collaborating with physicists from the University of Port Elizabeth and the University of Pretoria to make 20 Watt CIGS panels, thanks to an award by the Innovation Fund in the national Department of Science and Technology during 2003. The award, in the amount of R 13,2 million, has been used to construct a pilot assembly facility on the RAU campus (with more than R 2 million of top-up funds added by RAU management).
The two main components of the facility are a state-of-the-art sputtering instrument and a state-of-the-art diffusion oven. The former was designed by Leybold Optics of Dresden, Germany, and the latter by Wilro Technologies in the Netherlands. Both these instruments were designed according to Prof Alberts' unique and novel specifications and are, at the moment, the only examples of their kind in the world. They also constitute the best combination of instruments of this kind in the world at present.
This patented technology has caused great excitement across a broad front of stakeholders, since it promises to bring the practical cost of applying solar photovoltaic systems for electricity production down to a level comparable to coal-fired or nuclear technologies.
Furthermore, the technology contributes nothing to carbon dioxide emissions and consumes only the resources used to manufacture the solar panels (the metals copper, indium and gallium and the non-metal selenium). These materials could in principle all be recycled into new panels at the end of the useful lifetime of a panel, since no material whatsoever is consumed. The finite lifetime (15-20 years) of a panel is simply due to deterioration of the crystal structure over time.
The energy used to make a panel is recovered within 1-2 years of operation, beyond which a further 13-18 years of net energy production remain. There is no vulnerability to disruptions in fuel supply, since sunlight is the fuel consumed.
In addition, solar photovoltaic technology can be produced in any desired amount, from a few milliwatts to many megawatts, if so desired. It is not necessary to erect large power stations to serve a community with energy from this technology.
A typical middle-class suburban family needs only about 30 square metres (about the size of a living room) of solar panels to supply all of its electricity needs.
The technology also holds great promise for socio-economic development, especially in the rural areas of Southern Africa. - RAU
The pilot production facility was officially opened by the South African national minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, on 9 November 2004.
Sonia Cronjé: Media Relations, Division of Public Affairs, RAU. firstname.lastname@example.org
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