Solar Water Heating
Friday, 12 November 2010 12:22

Overcoming challenges in Africa’s solar energy industry

Solairedirect Southern Africa is a power generation company that develops, builds, co-owns and operates large solar power installations. The company is a subsidiary of the Solairedirect Group, which is based in France.

“We develop, finance, build, own and operate solar plants across the SADC region and the group now operates in Southern and Northern Africa, the West Coast of South America and Indian sub-continent,” says Ryan Hammond, managing director of Solairedirect Southern Africa.

 

Solairedirect is the largest privately owned solar power company in France, with approximately 30MWp of solar parks completed and a further 60MWp in construction. The Groups operations in Southern Africa differ from the rest of the markets in which Solairedirect operates as it has both the power generation subsidiary, Solairedirect Southern Africa, and the groups manufacturing subsidiary, Solairedirect Technologies. Two years ago, the group took the bold decision to establish a state-of-the-art, manufacturing facility in Bellville, Cape Town, which was an investment of over ZAR50-million. Photovoltaic production started in January 2009 and Solairedirect Technologies now produces 35 MW per year.

How the REFIT scheme will affect local PV manufacturers
According to Hammond, there are a number of challenges that PV manufacturers in Africa are currently experiencing. “The market size is currently the primary challenge in the PV manufacturing industry. There’s also a lot of uncertainty concerning the revised REFIT scheme and we are waiting to see what type of allocation solar energy will receive in the programme. The market is also waiting for a number of projects to be implemented, such as the huge solar park that is planned at Upington,” says Hammond.

The Cape Town production facility currently only has a single line that produces 35 MW. “A further two lines capable of producing 70MW are being planned, but this will depend on the size that gets allocated to the REFIT scheme and local demand – we would hope the volume of business will justify increasing the size of the factory,” says Hammond.

Misperceptions about solar technologies
Another challenge for local manufacturers of renewable energy products and sources is common misperceptions, as well as inadequate information, about the value of these products. “PV panels, for example, are still perceived to be an expensive renewable energy source even though the price has been reduced by over 50% during the last three years. When it comes to solar energy, government and other organisations unfortunately often seem have outdated information upon which to base their views about what type of solutions various solar energy technologies can provide,” says Hammond, before adding that solar thermal storage technology is an example of one of these misperceptions.

Solar thermal technology attempts to convert solar energy to steam. One of the selling points of this form of renewable energy is solar thermal’s supposed ability to store energy and deliver electricity to consumers during peak demand. Solar thermal technology is different to photovoltaics, which converts solar energy directly into electricity. According to David Mills of Arusa, only 600 MW of solar thermal power was up and running worldwide in October 2009 and another 400 MW is under construction.

“Some people believe that solar thermal technologies can provide baseload power – a fact that still remains unproven. Less than 1 GW of solar thermal technology had been installed around the world, while over 22 GW of solar PV systems had been installed. Solar PV is without doubt the most tried, tested and proven solar technology that can help Africa to create cleaner, sustainable energy solutions for the future,” concludes Hammond.

Solairedirect Southern Africa
Tel: +27 21 953 6000
Fax: +27 21 951 2840
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website: www.solairedirect.co.za