SolaireDirect expects solar parks to take off in South Africa

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Local solar photovoltaic (PV) panel manufacturer SolaireDirect has purchased additional manufacturing equipment, which allows it to produce roof integrated solar PV panels at its Cape Town facility.
SolaireDirect business development manager Ryan Hammond explained that the manufacturing facility in Cape Town has been operational since March 2009, and was capable of producing 35 MW of solar PV modules a year, with in-built capacity to increase output three-fold to about 100 MW of PV panels a year.
The initial investment in the manufacturing facility was R50-million, and R30-million of that was funded through a loan from the Industrial Development Corporation.
Addressing delegates gathered at a French South African Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the new OR Tambo Intercontinental Hotel on Thursday, Hammond said that the facility employed some 70 people, who have received skills development training.
The panels produced in Cape Town were largely for the use of the company itself, which also designs, builds, and operates solar PV parks. Although none have been built in South Africa, the global company has experience constructing solar PV farms in France.
“PV panels as a total percentage of the capital cost of a solar PV project, is in the region of 75%, so for us, the control over that large cost element, as well as the control over the supply of those panels, is vitally important to our operations, not only here in South Africa, but of course in France, and in years to come in India and other emerging markets that we decide to target as well,” Hammond said.
Hammond also noted that the implementation of the renewable energy feed-in-tariff (Refit) programme in South Africa would hasten the construction of solar park projects, which were already quite far advanced in the development stage.
“We are still very hopeful that we will see the power purchase agreements and Refit implementations roll out before the end of this year. Much of the development work is already under way, so depending on what projects are approved under that process, I think you could see construction happen early in 2011, assuming your Refit happens this year, and we could potentially see some projects completed by the end of 2011, depending on size and rate at which they can be constructed,” he added.
From the company’s experience in France, typically, a 10 MW solar park could be constructed in less than a year. The ability to roll out the technology quickly was viewed as a significant benefit.
The company was also investigating the potential for projects in Botswana and Namibia, and was in the early stages of some projects in Mozambique as well. These developments would not take place under a Refit scenario, but rather a commercial operation.
Large electricity users in the mining and industrial sectors were also said to be displaying a keen interest in the solar park proposal.
For example, if a large mine was running on diesel because that was the only alternative that they had in terms of generating electricity, SolaireDirect could put up an equivalent size solar park, and supply close to 30% of that electricity from solar sources, at a cost less than the diesel costs per kWh.
The fact that a solar park had no fuel costs was a definite advantage. “This has two important impacts, number one, we are not reliant on any fossil fuel, and in production we don’t create any greenhouse gases. Furthermore, that gives price certainty. When you build a solar park you know on day number one what the electricity price from that solar park will be on the last day of the twenty-fifth or the thirtieth year of operation, so it introduces a commercial certainty to the price of electricity,” Hammond reiterated.
“That is really where solar power has a significant role to play in a country like South Africa. Not just making our overall generation portfolio greener, but also providing price, and hence commercial stability to the cost of electricity,” he concluded.
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