According to an article on the IOL, South Africa website, scientist Professor Vivan Alberts and his colleagues at the University of Johannesburg (formerly Rand Afrikaans University) have achieved a breakthrough in developing a "revolutionary, new highly efficient solar power technology" after 10 years of research. Panels will be available within a year. The technology has been patented throughout the world. It is claimed to be "much more efficient than the costly old silicon solar panels."
The article goes on to say:
A German company IFE Solar Systems, has invested more than R500-million (US $83-million) in the South African invention and is set to manufacture 500,000 of the panels before the end of the year at a new plant in Germany. Production will start next month and the factory will run 24 hours a day, producing more than 1,000 panels a day to meet expected demand. ....
The South African solar panels consist of a thin layer of a unique metal alloy that converts light into energy. The photo-responsive alloy can operate on virtually all flexible surfaces, which means it could in future find a host of other applications.
Alberts said the new panels are approximately five microns thick (a human hair is 20 microns thick) while the older silicon panels are 350 microns thick. the cost of the South African technology is a fraction of the less effective silicone solar panels.
According to this November 2004 article:
Prof Vivian Alberts of the Department of Physics at the Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa and team have developed and patented a novel manufacturing technique that finally makes it possible to construct CIGS solar panels at a very low cost. ....Work done over the last two years indicates that panels can be produced in commercial volumes at a cost of about R 500 (US $83 or $1.66/W) for a 50 Watt panel. This is much cheaper than existing solar panels available on the market.
$1.66/W is much lower than anyone else is achieving right now but, if you believe their price, they could be on about the same pace as some other non-silicon thin film producers will be in a year, so I don't see their technology as "revolutionary." Their installed price might be about $3.00-$3.50/W (at 2x panel price). The key to low cost cells is the manufacturing methods and it is awful ambitious of anyone to assume they can reach that price in one year, even with a "novel" manufacturing process.
Daystar and others are developing similar technology. Daystar may be reaching $3.00-$3.50/W installed price in 2007 with their Gen II production if everything goes right. They are achieving 20% efficiency in the laboratory which is
much better than anyone most get with silicon. Daystar plans on reducing its installed price to the range of $1.00/W when its Gen III production is tuned up in 2009, but I suspect they may have to go to a Gen IV process, producing wider width cell panels and a higher production rate before they reach that price.
NREL has said that industry needs to get its price down to about $0.52 per watt (cost $0.26) to achieve installed price of under a $1.00/W, (for 13% efficiency CIGS panels) the holy grail of pricing necessary to compete with utility power without any subsidies in the US. Electricity is much more expensive in South Africa than in the US, so maybe their price is competitive over there. Prices this low are for large multi-MW installations, not for household installations, so that is another factor to consider. Supplies of Indium and Gallium become tight when you are talking about multi-GW production so yet another obstacle to overcome. And then could we have patent infringement lawsuits at some time? Life is so complicated.