The Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) has confirmed an investment worth R20-million into an East London facility able to produce 300 000 flat-panel solar water heaters, as well as more affordable vacuum tube-based systems, yearly.
The ECDC disbursement formed part of a larger R33-million investment into Matla Solar, which has both South African and Asian partners.
The facility has been set up in the East London Industrial Development Zone (IDZ), and the first manufactured item is expected to be produced before the end of June.
ECDC holds 15% of the equity in the company, Matla 53% and Ming Yang, of Taiwan, 32%.
Matla chief investment officer Chia Chao Wu
says that the new plant should have a cost advantage over imported products, even those produced in countries such as China.
The company expects to create at least 100 skilled manufacturing jobs within the IDZ, and from 50 jobs to 100 jobs in distribution and consumer support.
The South African government has set a target of installing one-million solar water heaters by 2013. But there is widespread concern about whether there is sufficient manufacturing and installation capacity to meet that target.
Nevertheless, Wu estimates that the market will grow to between R1,5-billion and R2-billion a year over the next four years.
ECDC account manager Pinky Madosi says that, while Matla will supply into the national solar-geyser roll-out, there are also specific opportunities emerging in the Eastern Cape, with both the Buffalo City municipality and the Nelson Mandela Bay metro planning to accelerate the deployment of solar geysers.