THE capital costs of photovoltaic plants have fallen more than 40% in the past two years because of the growth of the industry

THE capital costs of photovoltaic plants have fallen more than 40% in the past two years because of the growth of the industry, says the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association.

The lower capital costs put photovoltaic on an equal footing with other solar technologies, the association said yesterday.

Photovoltaic technology is traditionally more expensive compared to other solar technologies, and involves the conversion of solar radiation into direct-current electricity using semiconductors.

The National Energy Regulator of SA' s October 2009 renewable energy feed-in tariff guideline put photovoltaic at R3,94/kWh and concentrated solar at R3,14/kWh.

"Since 2008, when the (feed-in) tariffs were calculated, the size of the installed (photovoltaic) market has more than doubled, resulting in the capital cost of (photovoltaic) power plants dropping by over 40%," photovoltaic association found er member Ryan Hammond said yesterday.

"The current cost-effectiveness of photovoltaic is equivalent to any other solar technology and it remains the most versatile renewable technology choice, capable of being easily applied in installations from 10W to over 100MW and more," he said.

Mr Hammond, who is also MD of photovoltaic panel manufacturer SolaireDirect Southern Africa, said the association would communicate "clear and accurate" facts about the photovoltaic industry.

"There is a lot of misinformation about the industry. Photovoltaic technology's costs (are) one of the facts we are going to address.

"We cannot decide the (energy) future on outdated figures. That is not the right way to go about it. No one needs the R3,94/kWh. Projects can still be viable at 40% less than that," Mr Hammond said.

In Europe, the renewable energy feed-in tariff for photovoltaic is about R2/kWh, he said. "We need to sit down with the Department of Energy and look at the real numbers. We would love to see the R3,94/ kWh revisited. There is no gain for SA in using outdated numbers. Government must recognise that (photovoltaic) costs have fallen," he said.

The body would represent the industry "before political institutions , informing our members on the latest legislative developments, anticipating legislation and the potential impact . on the sector" .

The regulator's spokesman, Charles Hlebela, said the renewable energy feed-in tariffs are reviewed annually. Changes apply only to new entrants. "The changes will not apply to companies that have signed power purchase agreements," he said.

njobenis@bdfm.co.za