South African researchers have done a lot of work on solar power, and several inventions that use solar power have been the outcome. In fact, South Africa has plans to build the largest solar power park in the world. Much of the energy in South Africa is from coal plants. There have been many solar inventions out of South Africa that will change the future of renewable power.
South African scientists at Rand Afrikaans University developed and patented a copper-indium-gallium-diselenide photovoltaic panel. Traditional photovoltaic panels are made of silicon and are not very efficient. CIGS is much more efficient at converting solar energy into electricity. One micron of CIGS can absorb 99 percent of available solar energy while it takes 350 microns of silicon-based panels to absorb the same amount. The new panels are much less expensive to use, and CIGS is very stable and can last from 15 to 20 years before the panel needs to be replaced.
TFST stands for thin film solar technology and was developed by Professor Vivian Alberts at the University of Johannesburg. The patent for TFST was granted in 2003 and 2004 but it was not until 2009 that companies began to commercialize the technology. The panels use a metal alloy to convert sunlight into electricity and they are much thinner than traditional solar panels. These thin panels can be used on all types of flexible surfaces and once the panel is used up, after its estimated 20-year lifespan, it can be recycled.
VF 247 is a solar-powered cell phone made by Vodacom. The phone contains an integrated solar panel and special Sun Boost software so that the phone charges at all times, even when it is not in direct sunlight. The cell phone contains a high-temperature battery that can withstand the higher-than-normal operating temperatures related to solar charging. There is also additional temperature protection for the cell phone should temperatures go too high. Vodacom states that leaving the phone in the sun for one or two hours a day is enough to charge the phone for use.
Solar Power Plant
South Africa has designed plans to build what’s been called the world’s largest solar power plant — more than 22,000 acres. The estimated output of this solar park is five gigawatts a year, about 10 percent of the annual energy needs of South Africa — which currently relies heavily on coal for power. The park is due to be completed and connected to the national grid toward the end of 2012.
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