Skip to comments.Novel invention could mean cheaper source of energy from solar power
Posted on 03/01/2006 5:25:16 AM PST by Mikey_1962
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 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.
(Excerpt) Read more at scienceinafrica.co.za ...
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.
Benefits 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
"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
If this turns out to be true and it pays for itself in 1 to 2 years as claimed, where do I sign up?"
If I kept copies of all the stories about novel new materials that will finally make solar economic, I'd have a stack as tall as me.
Solar probably isn't the best option for those of us in the not so sunny north but every little bit helps. I've got lots of solar charged outdoor lights around that yard and haven't been disappointed.
What does race have anything to do with this subject????
I'm unsure why it matters, but Vivian Alberts is white.
Really? Why's that? This is great news about CIGS, but what's urgent about anthropogenic CO2 emissions?
Is this a typical middle class family in the U.S. or in South Africa, where the article and research originate?
If "R" means South African Rands, then R500 ~= $31, which is indeed a price breakthrough. The current going rate for a finished 50W panel is just over $200. Wow!
Recently I was in California and I saw an entire development being constructed that was using solar slates on the roof. The roofs were very attractive and looked exactly like roof slate. I understand it powers the entire house.
Oops, I did that math wrong. 1R = $0.16, so R500 would be about $83 not $31.
I guess banned8 is keeping a track of this due to the pro-black racism and affirmative action/quota hiring that some have reported in SA.
If a predominantly black team had created this stuff then it would be great news - a sign that talent rises to the top even in a (reportedly) discriminatory environment.
Check this out!!
George Washington Carver was a fine example of the cream rising to the top even against the odds.
Sounds great; life off the grid as much as possible is a GOOD thing!
I still think the most promise lies in concentraing the light and heat from the sun in a large satellite-dish type device and using it to turn a Stirling engine to power a generator or charge a deep-cell battery. The loss of efficiency is far less than the conversion of light.
"a state-of-the-art sputtering" made me think of Teddy the Swimmer!
If I kept copies of all the stories about novel new materials that will finally make solar economic, I'd have a stack tall enough to burn in my wood burning stove for 10 years.
Reminds me of the New England folk tale about the old Geezer that live in the woods at the far end of the postal route. Seems as though he would sign up for every mailing list, free paper and every possible piece of junk mail you could imagine.
This of couse ran counter to "common sense", and reached a point where the local postal delivery person was ready to have the gentleman committed!
Finally, after dropping off another large load of "junk mail" the Postman confronted the Geeze. "Why do you put up with this stuff? Don't you know you can 'Opt-out' of all this mail? I know it's lonely here, but you can possibly read it all"
To which he replied "Read it? Hell NO! I burn it for heat, and you deliver it right to my door for free!"
How quickly this will happen? Who knows? However, it does seem likely, given news like this and the pronouncement from President Bush about energy, that it won't be too long a period of time. Regardless, if they continue to threaten the world's oil supply,which seems likely, the world will inevitably find another way to generate the power it needs, regardless of how long it takes. On that day we will all take great pleasure in telling the Saudis, Hugo Chavez, Al-Qaeda, et. al. to shove it where PV cells won't work.
I think they are green...
"Right. Vivian, eat the telly."
"What does race have anything to do with this subject????"
Sounds to me like a liberal troll trying to make FR look like a racist entity. Lib or dumb@ss conservative, it doesn't matter. We don't need such stupidity.
Saw that coming. But it's a good story.
Plus the storage problem is glossed over. The "all the energy needed" phrase assumes sunlight 24/7, an absurd lapse.
Plus the maintenance absolutely necessary to maintain highest efficiency is neither mentioned nor examined.
Last but not least, what about the storage medium and the cost of recycling both the panels and the storage media?
This was my all time favorite episode.
Get the picture?
Yes! Now I know what I want for siding on the south side of the house!
I posted a solar thread this morning and researchers in the US were claiming they could cut the installation costs for 1 watt of power from $7 to $3.50 or less. If this article is correct the SA solar panels will cost about $1.66 per watt. That's about 1/4th of current cost. Quite a jump in efficiency if their claims pan out.
I'll fight you for first in line! This would be wonderful. And at last my house with the South facing roof would be put to good use.
---I still think the most promise lies in concentraing the light and heat from the sun in a large satellite-dish type device and using it to turn a Stirling engine to power a generator or charge a deep-cell battery. The loss of efficiency is far less than the conversion of light.---
Aeronutronic did this during the 70's and put it up at Edwards AFB. Oil got cheaper. Don't know what happened to experiment.
I am researching the "build-it-yourself kit" that I once saw and forgot about.
That comes to about 2500 watts of useable power. About what it takes to drive a woman's hair dryer.
Lots of large batteries will be be required for peak loads and conventional backup power for cloudy days.
This is the system that is the farthest along that I've seen in terms of solar.
It's my understanding is that california is planning to deploy to a massive array of these for multi-megawatt power production.
Powering your house off rooftop solar costs ~$7000 and used to be tax-deductable. Some energy companies pay you for excess energy production from your solar array, some don't. Here in Austin, TX - the municipal energy company rebates 75% of the cost if you hook your solar into the grid, so they get the excess energy. It's like a mini power plant for them. Without rebates or tax deductions, solar can pay itself off within 5 years or so.
Regarding geography, solar energy is effective at some level in most areas outside of the arctic circles. Near the coasts, you can expect increased production because of solar reflection off the ocean. Decreased power plant emissions increase solar emissions.
I think the stigma of solar energy is one of its ownly problems. Energy production doesn't have to be the responsibility of a large organization. Solar energy has been a worthwhile home investment since the mid-1980's, it just hasn't been a state/corporate solution and won't be for another 10 years.
The best way to gather solar energy, of course, is in space. A massive array could gather the energy and beam it down via microwaves to massive collection areas on the planet. It would be very effective - 40-50 years off though, and the collection arrays would have to be isolated.
Inevitably, if we try everything and it all generates power, that's good. When it comes to energy production, you don't need a unified solution. Nuclear, Wind, Solar, Biofuels - let's do it all. We can sort it out once we've ditched the coal plants and it's safe to eat fish again.
There's a major solar facility going up in Cali using stirling engines. The article was posted here some months ago by moi.
"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"
That depends on what country they are using to define a "typical middle-class suburbsn family", in some that would be a couple of light bulbs, a TV, and a refergerator.
I'm already in the final planning stages of a 5KW net-metered system w/3 day supply battery bank. I'm cutting thru the red tape now and plan to be on-line by late June or early July.
If quality of writing is any indication of veracity, this product is in trouble.
Where would you store the batteries to provide electricity at night?
Solar panels have been running about $5 a watt for decades in spite of constantly increasing sales. Mass production ought to kick in one of these days and drop the price to 5 cents a watt. Then we'll see a revolution in home power systems.
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