Solar power on wheels; South Africa must be watching

Emerging solar power entrepreneurs in South Africa will be watching with interest the innovation that is powering municipal buses in the Polish city of Lublin.

In a move to reduce energy consumption and make public transport ‘greener’, Lublin has installed flexible thin film solar cells on the roofs of its municipal buses. The innovation undertaken by a firm called Midsummer is pillared on a technology that turns solar energy into electric energy which is then used to load the buses’ batteries. The outcome is reduced alternator load, leading to lesser fuel consumption.

It would seem Midsummer, which specializes in flexible thin film CIGS solar cells, has a message for sunny countries like South Africa. “If a city in north central Europe can install thin film solar panels on its public transport vehicles with energy cost efficiency and a short payback period; imagine the potential for larger cities in sunnier parts of the world for introducing solar energy to its vehicles and buildings,” said Midsummer CEO Sven Lindström.

The message will have stronger resonance in South Africa which is rolling a massive renewable energy. Investment of about $5bn was registered in 2012 under the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Program. This only reflects a flow from the first phase of the prgramme. More is coming.

Back to the Polish show, the Municipal Transport Company (MPK) in Lublin is expecting potential savings to be in the area of 1,900 euros (R25.460) per bus per year. Midsummer says the system’s payback period is estimated at two years, taking into consideration only the fuel consumption reduction and not the overall environmental benefits. “After two years, the solar energy solution will create compound surpluses for MPK for the remainder of the panels’ life span that will outlast the lifetime of the bus”

Added Lindström “As opposed to the more traditional silicon-based solar cells, thin film CIGS solar panels are flexible and light weight and therefore ideal to be mounted on moving vehicles – and also on many buildings, landfills etc,”

“We firmly believe that thin film CIGS solar cells are the solar cells of the future. They are increasingly efficient and have many advantages over traditional silicon-based solar cells. They are durable, can withstand vibrations, can be curved and bent, and can be manufactured cost-efficiently in small volumes.”

“The thin film panels on the buses in Lublin are characterized by flexibility and shock resistance,” said Professor Miroslaw Wendeker from the Faculty of Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics and Aerospace Propulsion at University of Technology in Lublin in an interview with the Polish Press Agency. “These cells have better absorption feature than traditional silicon wafers. They can be configured at will and placed on any roof.”

The university collaborated with the Municipal Transport Company (MPK) in Lublin in rolling out the project.

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