R26m solar plant launches in Cape Town - and it has big plans to create jobs for women

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A new solar panel assembly plant in Cape Town has created employment opportunities for 53 women.
A new solar panel assembly plant in Cape Town has created employment opportunities for 53 women.
Lameez Omarjee/News24
  • A new solar panel assembly plant employing 53 women has launched in Cape Town.
  • The $1.5 million (R26 million) plant has the capacity to produce about 20 000 solar PV modules a month.
  • The small solar panels are targeted at low-income households in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • For climate change news and analysis, go to News24 Climate Future.

A new solar PV assembly plant has launched in Cape Town, housed on the premises of an energy company that cut its teeth creating sustainable energy solutions for low-income households.

The R26-million plant can produce some 20 000 solar panels each month and is creating job opportunities for more than 50 women.

The plant is located at Ener-G-Africa's headquarters in Ndabeni. Ener-G-Africa has two manufacturing facilities - one in Cape Town and another in Lilongwe, Malawi. It started as a wholesale solar company in Malawi in 2017. Since 2018, it has been producing biomass stoves – a cleaner and healthier option for rural communities in sub-Sahara Africa.

The solar panel assembly plant in Cape Town has been a year in the making and can produce 15MW of small solar panels per year.

According to CEO André Moolman, the plant required funding of $1.5 million (R26 million) which was made possible through concessional finance from C-Quest Capital, a social impact investment company focusing on projects that provide clean energy and reduce carbon.

René Salmon is the plant manager at Ener-G-Africa'
René Salmon is the plant manager at Ener-G-Africa's Cape Town facility.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

Moolman said the advantage of being located in Cape Town is that the operations are close to the port, allowing for the import of solar cells and solar glass and the export of the final product. Its international suppliers are based in Germany and India. The company relies on locally sourced aluminium frames, adhesives and packaging materials, among other things.

Ener-G-Africa has also been mindful of creating job opportunities for women.

"Factory workers in all sectors are predominantly men, and we wanted to give the employment opportunity to women from previously disadvantaged communities," Moolman said.

The automated stringer literally strings different
The automated stringer does just that - strings different solar cells together.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

There are currently 53 women employed at the plant, led by plant manager René Salmon, who is involved in the training process. It takes about roughly a month to complete.

Solar cells go through an automated stringer where
Solar cells go through an automated stringer where they are soldered or joined together.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

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Moolman said that typically solar panel manufacturers produce bigger panels for utility-scale projects, larger businesses or residential installations. Also, small solar panels often do not come with reputable certifications.

"Higher-quality small solar panels can be found in the Americas and Europe, but at much higher prices that wouldn't be affordable for low-income households in Africa," Moolman said.

Ener-G-Africa saw a gap in the market to provide certified small solar panels for low-income households in the sub-Sahara Africa region.

After coming out of the automated stringer, the so
After coming out of the automated stringer, the solar cells (now connected) will be placed on solar glass and undergo another soldering process.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

"It is the first and only small solar panel plant in the world certified by TUV Rheinland, which means that some of Africa's poorest communities will have access to solar with the highest quality certification available. Typically, the major solar panel manufacturers will produce bigger panels," said Moolman.

The solar pv module is prepared for a process of l
The solar pv module is prepared for a process of lamination - which will seal everything together.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

The final product is a 20W panel. Each panel is priced at $18 (R306) and are targeted at the domestic market as well as Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.

After cooling, from the lamination process, the so
After cooling, from the lamination process, the solar PV panel is trimmed and will be framed.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

*All amounts are based on the rand-dollar exchange rate on 2 February 2023.

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