First phase of South African solar 
water heater panel 
factory complete

Alternative-energy solu-
 tions company African
 Emissions Trading (AET) has completed the first phase of its solar water heater panel factory at Silvertondale, in Pretoria.
The first phase of the factory, which cost R5-million, included the design and manufacture of the first 150 panels. Before establishing the factory, AET had to first pass all applicable South African Bureau of Standards tests.
The factory has the capacity to produce 500 panels a month with 15 employees working an eight-hour shift. “This means we can produce 2 000 panels a month,” says AET MDVenter Malan.
The facility is expected to reach full capacity at the end of the year, with a further invest-ment of between R3-million and R5-million for the second phase of development. The investment will depend on the level of automation that AET needs to deploy.
The company says that, when the factory is fully ramped up, it will employ about 60 people and, currently, it only has five employees.
The further development of the factory will be motivated by AET’s desire to develop its products locally, as the bulk of solar water heater collectors are imported, with all evac-uated tubes and most flat plates coming from China, India, Australia or Europe.
“Flat plate technology is not new or expensive, so there is no reason why we cannot manufacture this in South Africa and even export the technology. The energy shortage that the country currently experiences means that we must find alternatives to alleviate the crisis. The efficiency to heat water with electricity from the national grid is less than 10% and it does not make sense. Solar energy will repay itself over a shorter period, as electricity prices rise. If solar thermal panels can be mass-produced in the country, it will reduce the price of systems and become more viable, as it can be used in industrial applications,” says Malan.
“We are also busy with the development of several other products that we want to introduce to the renewable- energy market,” he says.
The company predicts that the renewable-energy market will continue to grow in the coming years, and reports that the direction and rate of the growth of this sector will depend largely on suppliers understanding of the products and technology.
“As long as government continues to change regulations to force the use of alternatives and suppliers continue to increase their knowledge base, the country will witness a steady and sustainable growth, which will also contribute to job creation,” he adds.

Clients are moving towards renewable-energy solutions because they want to save on their energy bill and know it is the right thing to do as global warming is a reality, says Malan.
The company currently supplies its products to the residential market but it is expanding its product range and knowledge to cater for large-scale installations. It also believes that renewable-energy alternatives should be used for more than hot water. “There is huge potential for spatial heating, industrial process heating and preheating, as well as cooling and electricity generation,” he explains.
For example, AET is currently working on a chicken farm to supply stored solar heat to its day-old chicks at night and to a nursery to heat its seedlings through solar underfloor heating.
Meanwhile, the significant challenges that the company faces include tenders that are written for existing products that are imported. This means 
that, technically, local com-panies, once they have devel-oped products locally, are disadvantaged and this poses a challenge for business growth, he says.
Malan notes: “The Eskom rebate system caters only for systems, which means that our panel has to be used with a number of geysers and configurations. This is a lengthy and costly exercise. 
“If there were components tests, we would be able to test our panels and installers would be able to configure systems from the components approved.”
AET states that it is also difficult to get affordable finan-
cing to help emerging copanies, as most of the funders want the company to have a proven market or a big contract before they can consider investment.

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