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Solar Energy in Africa

ICTP workshop promotes low-cost, nano-structured photovoltaics

Solar Energy in Africa

School participants at Addis Ababa University

Africa, a continent characterized by strong solar radiation, is an ideal candidate for solar energy. Yet the high costs of traditional, silicon-based solar energy technology have prevented countries in Africa and other developing regions of the world from adopting it widely.

ICTP is hoping to change this by promoting new solar research that uses nanotechnology to produce low-cost, photovoltaic alternatives. Such was the aim of a recent workshop held at and co-sponsored by Addis Ababa University. The week-long "African School on Nanoscience for Solar Energy Conversion" highlighted the latest developments in photovoltaic research for some 90 participants from throughout Africa. Instructors included pioneers in the field of solar technology, representing both academia and industry.

Although nanotechnology-based solar cells are not yet commercially available, current research shows encouraging signs that the technology could be an ideal, cost efficient energy solution for developing countries that lack reliable energy infrastructures. According to school organizer Ralph Gebauer of ICTP's Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics section, the two main challenges are stability and efficiency.

"While the traditional, silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells can last for many years in the sun, UV light is harmful to the organic dyes that are used in nano-based solar cells, severely reducing their lifetime. And although the efficiency of such cells has improved dramatically over the past few years, they are still only about half as efficient as silicon photovoltaics," explained Gebauer.

Nonetheless, Gebauer and others see great promise in this new nanotechnology application, not only for its low production costs but also for its minimal maintenance requirements. Gebauer added, "Another benefit is the decentralized nature of solar power which gives users a reliable supply of energy that the power grids in most developing countries cannot provide."

The School was held at Addis Ababa University because of that institute's flourishing research in the area. By connecting African physicists, chemists, and material scientists with world-renowned experts in the field, the School was able to exchange relevant and new techniques, bringing the continent one step closer to an affordable, renewable and reliable energy source.


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