I was delighted to read in the South African Mail and Guardian this morning that a public-private partnership between the University of Johannesburg and several other partners (Sasol, the Central Energy Fund (CEF), the National Empowerment Fund and the University of Johannesburg) are working on a plant to commercialise thin-film technology in South Africa. The new technology is known as Thin Film Solar panels, and consists of micro-thin metallic film (only 5 microns thick) that converts light into energy at a fraction of a cost of the current Photovoltaic technology. Germany is a global leader in micro-film technology due to its huge investments into alternative energy technology, and the equipment needed to make the Thin Film Solar modules will be imported from Germany to the Western Cape province to establish a production facility in Paarl.
This is great news for several reasons. Firstly, researchers at Stellenbosch university are also working hard on new solar technology, thus creating a regional technology cluster effects (click here and here for more information). But perhaps the timing of this announcement is more important, as it coincides with the announcement that Escom wants to increase its energy prices by 45% for the next three years. At the moment, solar panels are still extremely expensive in South Africa.
A Google search for “thin film solar” found several sites that explained the technology, and it seems that similiar technologies have been commercialised elsewhere. It was not possible for me to determine whether the South African design differed than the technology described on Wikipedia.
South Africa have other reasons than our electricity shortage and price increases to invest in new climate friendly technology. Not only do we have to worry about our environment, but alternative energy could assist in overcoming the costs of connecting rural households to the grid. But at the moment the costs of alternative energy in South Africa is still very high. I cannot wait for the day that I can disconnect from the mainline power grid for environmental and cost reasons! Bring on the technology!!!!
This blog post was inspired by an article in the Mail and Guardian online, the original article can be found at http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-10-13-sas-thinfilm-solar-tech-at-commercial-stage