SMALL energy company Black Lite Energy said yesterday it was conducting a feasibility study on a thin-film solar panel plant in the East London Industrial Development Zone.

Black Lite Energy wants to supply independent power producers with locally produced thin film, thus helping the them meet the government's local-content requirements.

Black Lite said the study would be completed in three months' time. MD Ajay Lalu said yesterday copper indium gallium selenide thin-film solar panels from the plant would be sold to the power producers, "giving them a component with 100% local content".

Mr Lalu said thin film was used to generate electricity and was the latest photovoltaic technology. He said the plant would be in the Eastern Cape because of the job-creation potential in one of SA's most impoverished provinces. East London was ideal for the company because the environmental impact assessment had been completed in the industrial development zone, he said, and it had good port and rail infrastructure.

"The added advantage is that the automotive sector in the area gives Black Lite access to highly skilled and trained engineers and skilled operators."

Black Lite has also designed, developed and produced a prototype for lighting for low-income housing that will use the thin-film solar panels.

Mr Lalu said the next step for the project after the feasibility study would be to raise about R2bn. "At the same time, we also have to secure suppliers of different components," he said. It would take 12 to 18 months to build the plant, he said.

Mr Lalu said Black Lite had an exclusive arrangement with global hi-tech equipment manufacturer Manz of Germany.

"Manz has superior copper indium gallium selenide thin-film technology, which has distinct advantages for Africa when compared with traditional photovoltaic technologies like crystalline or amorphous silicone. It generates more energy at higher temperatures and even generates energy on rainy or cloudy days."

Manz CEO Dieter Manz said the company was encouraged by the scale of renewable energy development in SA.