Africa is the source of some great startup companies that are increasing access to renewable energy across the continent, and now a South African research team has announced that they have found a solution to a problem than has stumped researchers for years.
Their innovation will make small-scale solar power plants easy to make and easy to install.
The breakthrough design uses an array of mirrors to concentrate the energy from the sun. The mirrors move with the sun throughout the day, and direct the light to a point in the center. That central point gets incredibly hot, and that heat is then turned into electricity.
Current solar plants are large for a reason. Since they are expensive to run, they need to be big in order to be profitable.
To make solar power plants easier to integrate with the grid, the research team focuses on making them both cheap and easy to install. Large-scale solar power plants require a concrete base and complicated electrical wiring. The solar arrays made by the South African team will, by contrast, take just two people to manufacture and set up.
The South African research group, from the Solar Thermal Research Group at Stellenbosch University, was led by a former Intel strategist named Paul Gauché. The team will develop a prototype by October, after which they will concentrate on getting the technology out on the market.
Big companies like Google have tried to solve this problem before, but gave it up, reporting that they could not do it cheaply enough. Gauché’s team has created a solar power plant that is cheaper than diesel. This innovative leap could quickly make solar competitive with fossil fuels, especially since they plan to bring it to the market by next year.
Image (c) Jeffrey Barbee