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Novel invention could mean cheaper source of energy from solar power
Science in Africa ^ | 3/1/06 | Mikey_1962

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 ...


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: energy; solarpanels; solarpower
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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.

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

1 posted on 03/01/2006 5:25:18 AM PST by Mikey_1962
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To: Mikey_1962
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?
2 posted on 03/01/2006 5:33:40 AM PST by HEY4QDEMS (Learn from the past, don't live in it.)
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To: PatrickHenry; b_sharp; neutrality; anguish; SeaLion; Fractal Trader; grjr21; bitt; KevinDavis; ...
FutureTechPing!
An emergent technologies list covering biomedical
research, fusion power, nanotech, AI robotics, and
other related fields. FReepmail to join or drop.

3 posted on 03/01/2006 5:34:26 AM PST by AntiGuv
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To: HEY4QDEMS

"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?"


DITTO!!!


4 posted on 03/01/2006 5:36:37 AM PST by MaDeuce (Do it to them, before they do it to you!)
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: Mikey_1962

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.


6 posted on 03/01/2006 5:42:10 AM PST by DManA
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To: HEY4QDEMS

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.


7 posted on 03/01/2006 5:42:11 AM PST by cripplecreek (Never a minigun handy when you need one.)
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To: banned8
were these Afrikan researchers Black (like Mandela, harvard professor gates, sharpton..) or white ?

What does race have anything to do with this subject????

8 posted on 03/01/2006 5:42:50 AM PST by mountn man (Tact is for people not witty enough to be sarcastic.)
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To: banned8

I'm unsure why it matters, but Vivian Alberts is white.


9 posted on 03/01/2006 5:43:43 AM PST by AntiGuv
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To: Mikey_1962
the urgency of alternatives to CO2 emitting energy sources is becoming more obvious by the day.

Really? Why's that? This is great news about CIGS, but what's urgent about anthropogenic CO2 emissions?

10 posted on 03/01/2006 5:45:14 AM PST by agere_contra
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To: HEY4QDEMS
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

Is this a typical middle class family in the U.S. or in South Africa, where the article and research originate?

11 posted on 03/01/2006 5:46:16 AM PST by doc30 (Democrats are to morals what and Etch-A-Sketch is to Art.)
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To: agere_contra
but what's urgent about anthropogenic CO2 emissions?

Isn't it obvious, It's making the trees to green. /s
12 posted on 03/01/2006 5:48:03 AM PST by HEY4QDEMS (Learn from the past, don't live in it.)
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To: Mikey_1962
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.

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!

13 posted on 03/01/2006 5:48:06 AM PST by jiggyboy (Ten percent of poll respondents are either lying or insane)
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To: Mikey_1962

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.


14 posted on 03/01/2006 5:50:31 AM PST by JIM O
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To: jiggyboy

Oops, I did that math wrong. 1R = $0.16, so R500 would be about $83 not $31.


15 posted on 03/01/2006 5:51:23 AM PST by jiggyboy (Ten percent of poll respondents are either lying or insane)
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To: banned8

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.


16 posted on 03/01/2006 5:52:29 AM PST by agere_contra
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To: SirKit
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.

Check this out!!

17 posted on 03/01/2006 5:55:44 AM PST by SuziQ
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To: agere_contra

George Washington Carver was a fine example of the cream rising to the top even against the odds.


18 posted on 03/01/2006 5:55:50 AM PST by cripplecreek (Never a minigun handy when you need one.)
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To: Mikey_1962

Sounds great; life off the grid as much as possible is a GOOD thing!


19 posted on 03/01/2006 5:56:29 AM PST by SuziQ
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To: Mikey_1962

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.


20 posted on 03/01/2006 5:57:34 AM PST by AbeKrieger (All great empires are destroyed from within.)
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To: Mikey_1962

"a state-of-the-art sputtering" made me think of Teddy the Swimmer!


21 posted on 03/01/2006 6:02:23 AM PST by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ("Don't touch that thing")
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To: agere_contra
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.

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!"

22 posted on 03/01/2006 6:03:08 AM PST by Jambe ( Save the Cows ! -- Eat a Vegan !!!)
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To: Mikey_1962
The Iranians, Hugo Chavez and their terrorist buddies think that by threatening the world's oil supply that we will simply give in because the world's economies must have oil. Clearly, none of them has ever taken an economics course. The more expensive you make your product, the more incentive your customers have to find alternatives to your product. Even if demand for your product is relatively inelastic, there will come a point where the price becomes so high that demand will go elsewhere. It's the way economics works and we are rapidly approaching that point.

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.

23 posted on 03/01/2006 6:03:52 AM PST by Reaganesque
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To: AntiGuv
Like this guy?


24 posted on 03/01/2006 6:05:09 AM PST by Reaganesque
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To: banned8

I think they are green...


25 posted on 03/01/2006 6:08:16 AM PST by Mikey_1962 (I grew up in a slum, when I got to college it had become a "ghetto".)
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To: Reaganesque

"Right. Vivian, eat the telly."


26 posted on 03/01/2006 6:14:54 AM PST by Ace of Spades (Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?)
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To: mountn man

"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.


27 posted on 03/01/2006 6:16:27 AM PST by Lee'sGhost (Crom!)
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To: Jambe

Saw that coming. But it's a good story.


28 posted on 03/01/2006 6:17:17 AM PST by Lee'sGhost (Crom!)
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To: Mikey_1962
Silicon is the most abundant element on earth.
To manufacture this new "Copper-Indium-Gallium-Diselenide CIGS" PV material, I would want to see a LOT more details before getting too excited.

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?

29 posted on 03/01/2006 6:20:26 AM PST by Publius6961 (Multiculturalism is the white flag of a dying country)
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To: Ace of Spades
LOL! And to introduce the guys to those who don't know them:

This was my all time favorite episode.

30 posted on 03/01/2006 6:30:14 AM PST by Reaganesque
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To: Mikey_1962
Think biodiesel. There's a LOT of used cooking oil to be had. Just ONE small 50 seat restaurant in my town uses 6,000 gallons of cooking oil per month. Now, multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of restaurants.

Get the picture?

31 posted on 03/01/2006 6:45:58 AM PST by pabianice (contact ebay??)
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To: Mikey_1962

Boomp.


32 posted on 03/01/2006 6:48:49 AM PST by aculeus
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To: MaDuce
If this turns out to be true and it pays for itself in 1 to 2 years as claimed, where do I sign up?"

The article didn't say it paid for itself in 1-2 years. It said the amount of energy needed to produce the panel can be generated in 1-2 years of use. Big difference.
33 posted on 03/01/2006 6:52:09 AM PST by Antoninus (The only reason you're alive today is because your parents were pro-life.)
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To: HEY4QDEMS

Yes! Now I know what I want for siding on the south side of the house!


34 posted on 03/01/2006 6:52:51 AM PST by Smokin' Joe (How often God must weep at humans' folly.)
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To: jiggyboy

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.


35 posted on 03/01/2006 6:54:49 AM PST by saganite (The poster formerly known as Arkie 2)
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To: HEY4QDEMS

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.


36 posted on 03/01/2006 7:02:24 AM PST by pepperdog
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To: AbeKrieger

---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.


37 posted on 03/01/2006 7:17:42 AM PST by hayburner
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To: pepperdog
I'll fight you for first in line!

I think I met have met you once when I was trying to buy Eagles tickets, (the band not the team).

How's the eye healing?
38 posted on 03/01/2006 7:27:15 AM PST by HEY4QDEMS (Learn from the past, don't live in it.)
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To: hayburner
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.

39 posted on 03/01/2006 7:32:23 AM PST by AbeKrieger (All great empires are destroyed from within.)
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Comment #40 Removed by Moderator

To: Mikey_1962
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 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.

41 posted on 03/01/2006 8:08:55 AM PST by Donald Rumsfeld Fan ("fake but accurate": NY Times)
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To: Mikey_1962
I consider the most basic information required when evaluating energy sources is how much energy it produces at what cost. Cost for Solar panels includes the area required. When an article comes out bragging on the new breakthrough, but doesn't mention how much area is required for the power output, I am very skeptical.
42 posted on 03/01/2006 8:29:55 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: DManA

This is the system that is the farthest along that I've seen in terms of solar.

http://www.stirlingenergy.com/whatisastirlingengine.htm

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.

More info:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_energy


43 posted on 03/01/2006 9:19:42 AM PST by ll_t
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To: hayburner

There's a major solar facility going up in Cali using stirling engines. The article was posted here some months ago by moi.


44 posted on 03/01/2006 9:22:54 AM PST by saganite (The poster formerly known as Arkie 2)
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To: ll_t

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy


45 posted on 03/01/2006 9:27:41 AM PST by ll_t
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To: HEY4QDEMS

"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.


46 posted on 03/01/2006 9:32:40 AM PST by dalereed
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To: saganite
Thanks for the bump

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.

47 posted on 03/01/2006 9:44:28 AM PST by Realism (Some believe that the facts-of-life are open to debate.....)
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To: Mikey_1962
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.

If quality of writing is any indication of veracity, this product is in trouble.

48 posted on 03/01/2006 9:47:47 AM PST by js1138
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To: MaDuce

Where would you store the batteries to provide electricity at night?


49 posted on 03/01/2006 10:24:25 AM PST by khenrich ( Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton.)
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To: Mikey_1962

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.


50 posted on 03/01/2006 10:26:38 AM PST by RightWhale (pas de lieu, Rhone que nous)
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