New technology to help cut manufacturing cost of alternative energy source

26th May 2006 By: Zonika Botha

An agreement between the Central Energy Fund (CEF), of South Africa, and IFE, a German company, will help to make solar power a much more cost-effective alternative energy solution for end users.

The agreement, signed in Rose-bank last week, sees IFE becoming an equity partner in a new company that will commercialise the revolutionary CIGS photovoltaic (PV) technology developed locally by Prof Vivian Alberts of the depart- ment of physics at the University of Johannesburg. Photovoltaic panels, better known as solar panels, are usually made of high-purity silicon.

However, this raw material adds considerably to the manufacturing cost of the end product.

Following more than 12 years of research, Alberts has developed a unique process to produce solar panels using CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-deselenide) instead of silicon.

It is believed that the final pro-duct will cost a quarter of the price of current PV panels.

Alberts and the University of Johannesburg, through their company, PTIP, will be making three licences to this technology available, one of which is being specifically set aside for a local production facility.

IFE, which has decades of experience in the solar-panel industry, will be leading the establishment of the world’s first production facility to commercially produce the CIGS PV technology in Berlin, Germany.

The CEF, along with other share- holders, will participate in the com- pany, named Johanna Solar Tech-nology.

Assuming a successful commercialisation process in Germany, the CEF, in partnership with IFE, plans to set up another production facility in South Africa.

CEF CEO Mputumi Damane says that the organisation is committed to diversifying the technology basket available in South Africa.

“South Africa has one of the best solar regimes in the world, yet this clean form of energy is currently highly underused. It is our vision that the commercialisation of this technology, first in Germany and subsequently in South Africa, will go a long way to not only providing us with environment-friendly alter- natives to electricity generated by coal, but also assisting us in providing electricity to people who currently are not connected to the grid.

“The benefit of this homegrown technology could ultimately be used not only by South Africa but also by the rest of the African continent.” Damane also announced the establishment of the National Energy Efficiency Agency (NEEA) to initially oversee the implementation of demand-side management (DSM) and energy-efficiency projects under- taken by State-owned electricity utility Eskom and other entities in the country.

Having officially commenced operations on April 3 this year, one of the key objectives of the NEEA will be to prioritise and recommend energy-efficiency and DSM projects to be undertaken in South Africa.

The body will be subject to review at three-year intervals and will be headed by Barry Bredenkamp, who has been seconded from Eskom.

The NEEA, which is based at the CEF’s offices in Rosebank, Johannesburg, will initially operate under the CEF corporate umbrella, but, over time, will develop its own unique corporate identity within the CEF environment.

In other news, the South African National Research Institute (Saneri), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CEF, held its inaugural board meeting on Thursday, May 11.

The institute will primarily be responsible for undertaking research and technology development to fully use and optimise the energy resources of South Africa.

“We all realise that energy is the key driver of Africa’s economy, and we, at the CEF, aim to do all in our power to ensure that this energy is fully developed and put to good and efficient use,” Damane said.

Based at the CEF’s head office in Rosebank, Saneri will, in due course, also develop its own corporate identity.