Africa – New Solar Technology

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Low cost and efficient solutions are being developed for household solar energy production across Africa

New research carried out in Abu Dhabi has led to the development of a low cost enhancement to existing solar technology. A small plastic device splits light into its constitutive colours such that each respective part of the light spectrum can be directed to a part of the solar panel which can convert it at maximum efficiency.

“The new device is a combination between a prism, which separates the different wavelengths of sunlight, and a lens, which concentrates the light that can be used to help harness a greater amount of energy from the sun” Sci-Dev reported Carlo Maragliano, a researcher with UAE government-funded research organisation Masdar Institute, as saying.

Current photovoltaic solar cells can only extract electricity from some of the wavelengths in the light spectrum, with blue and green wavelengths only being absorbed at around 15-18%, according to a recent academic paper.

However the new technology will allow around 40% of the energy in these shorter wavelengths to be turned into electricity, and particularly important is that the small plastic device can be easily mass produced.

The researchers want to use plastic because the low price would make the device a more attractive in developing countries. “The next step will be fabricating custom-made solar cells, and testing them with our optical element,” said Maragliano.

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Solar power is growing rapidly in Africa; earlier in December Rwanda, Ghana and Malawi joined the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) Energy Africa initiative which aims boost the household solar market. Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia are already part of the project.

Nick Hurd, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, in a UK government press release said, “it is unacceptable that two-thirds of people in Africa do not have access to electricity. Families are forced to rely on toxic, expensive kerosene and children cannot study after dark. On current projections the continent will not have universal energy access until 2080. That is why we must act to kick-start a solar revolution across Africa”.

There have been a number of recent deals; Solar company M-Kopa has raised US$19 million to scale up delivery of solar lighting kits in East Africa. Another company, CrossBoundary Energy, has raised a further $8m.

In another deal, Italian firm, Enel Green Power, said it is teaming up with Powerhive Inc, investing $12m to build and operate renewable mini-grids in 100 villages in Kenya, reported the East African.

However the Guardian recently reported that Morocco has postponed the Noor-1 solar power plant, which was due to open on December 27th in Ouarzazate, a part of what will eventually be the worlds largest solar power facility.

The facility will allow Morocco to cut carbon dioxide emission by 240,000 tonnes per year. A number of subsequent phases – Noor 2, Noor 3 and Noor 4 – will position the facility as the largest in the world, covering an area of around 30 square km. No reasons have been given for the recent delay.

 

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Renewable Energy – IRENA Report
Economic, Financial &  Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.21010B

POWER: Ghana
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.5, Pp.20865C–20867A

World Energy Outlook 2014 Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa Today
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue. 10, Pp. 20615A–20615B

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