Harvesting the sun

2013-05-28 00:00

WITHIN the next 20 years, “close to half of the energy we use now, will be generated by renewable sources”.

This was the message from Dr Wolsey Barnard, South African Department of Energy (DoE) deputy director-general of energy: programmes and projects, when he cut the ribbon marking the official opening of ARTsolar in New Germany on Thursday last week.

The new photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturer, the largest and most modern in Africa, is the first South African majority-owned manufacturer of this kind. It has been established by local entrepreneurs to provide long-term solutions to the current and predicted electricity issues facing the country.

Solar PV modules enable users to generate electricity from the sun — an abundant resource in Africa — and benefit from cost savings in the long term.

“There was no locally owned PV module manufacturer in South Africa and we recognised an opportunity to be able to give something back to our country,” said ARTsolar’s chairperson, Eshu Seevnarayan. “We wanted to make a difference … and we are set to play a significant role in renewable energy — initially in South Africa, and then in the sub-Saharan market and throughout the African continent.”

The facility has the capacity to manufacture 250 000 PV modules annually. This is equivalent to 75 MW of electricity — enough to po-wer at least 15 000 homes a year.

Another advantage for the local market is that funding for renewable energy projects is available.

The government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPP) has approved 18 solar projects as part of Window 1 of the five-window REIPPP programme, and nine solar projects have been given preferred bidder status as part of Window 2.

At the ARTsolar launch, Barnard also pointed out that the DoE small-scale projects RFP (Request for Proposals) is to be published in August for closure towards the end of the year, and is to be a smaller programme supplying renewable energy to the national electricity grid. “The idea will be to encourage small companies to participate in the RE programme,” he said.

Seevnarayan said that job creation for the local community has also been a concern of ARTsolar’s, as were maximising local content of the modules, black economic empowerment and enhanced aesthetics of the company’s products.

A training programme run by Swiss and Dutch PV experts at the state-of-the-art plant ensures that production quality control is in accordance with international standards. The company’s PV modules adhere to stringent IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) specifications and are certified by TüV Rheinland in Germany, the leading independent test institute. ART Solar’s chief operating officer, Dr Ronald Lange, is a recognised global PV expert who will be with the company for a year to establish manufacturing standards and the transfer of knowledge and skills.

The company has made a significant investment in the latest equipment from Swiss equipment manufacturer Meyer Burger Swiss Solar Systems and benefits from shared technology with global PV specialists. The company also offers a technical advisory and support service throughout the country, and has initiated a PV competence network with memb-ers from various disciplines to develop sustainable local businesses and generate high-quality jobs.

“We look forward to a bright future under the African sun,” said ARTsolar MD Mark Walsh.

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