Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTIP), a Stellenbosch-based company, today launched a plant for the production of photovoltaic cells – or solar panels, as they’re more commonly known.

The company’s panels will use thin-film technology for its commercial panels, rather than the more common silicon panels made by other manufacturers. The plant, the first on the continent, is a joint venture with¬†Singulus Technologies, a German manufacturer that has supplied some of the engineering solutions being used.

Currently, solar panels are prohibitively expensive for home users. While it’s possible to run a home off renewable and solar energy, doing so will set you back a small fortune. To harvest sufficient sunlight to power a house, panels need to be large – and thus more costly. The panels that will be manufactured by PTIP will be based on thin-film technology (the third generation of solar panels), and are more efficient than other solutions.

Thin-film technology was developed by University of Johannesburg’s professor Vivian Alberts, who’s also the CEO of PTIP. The patented technology is licensed worldwide, and has been in use since 2007. Alberts originally had a R12-million plant built at the university, but the PTIP plant in Stellenbosch cost R180-million.

Alberts says that he’s received a lot of support from the government over the last 15 years, and credits them for the backing he’s had over the last few years. He adds that it was his dream, from the beginning, to have a plant like this. The next step, he hopes, is to get local investment and grow the plant’s capacity. With R1-billion in backing it will be possible to produce solar panels with a total area of 18 000 square metres, and a power generation capacity of 120 megawatts.

The new panels, Alberts says, can have their initial cost recouped in between three and five years, and will last for 20 years in total.

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.