Ener-G-Africa (EGA), an African company tackling the challenges of climate change through research, development and the manufacturing of clean energy products, today officially launched its 15MW per annum women-led solar panel assembly plant in Cape Town.
This is the company’s second such facility in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In a statement, the company says the $1.5 million (R26 million), 800m2 plant is manufacturing solar panels for use with advanced biomass stoves, as well as for the regional African market and overseas exports.
The opening of the facility comes as the City of Cape Town is making frantic moves to wean itself from embattled power utility Eskom.
The city recently announced that residents and businesses will soon be able to sell excess electricity they generate, for cash.
South Africans are also increasingly investing in alternative energy sources, such as solar, in a bid to beat the load-shedding woes.
This, as Eskom has, over the years, failed to maintain its fleet of coal-fired power stations, which provide the bulk of the country’s electricity needs.
“This solar assembly facility was built with a focus on making smaller solar panels to serve low-income households across Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Andre Moolman, CEO of EGA.
“It is the first and only small solar panel plant in the world certified by TUV Rheinland, which means 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 targeted at utility-scale projects, and larger business and residential installations.
“Small solar panels intended for Africa are invariably made at smaller facilities and don't come with any reputable certifications, which has led to Africa being flooded with inconsistent and inferior panels. 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.”
The launch was attended by alderman James Vos, the City of Cape Town's mayoral committee member for economic growth, and Wrenelle Stander, CEO of Wesgro.
Moolman says South Africa is the most technologically-capable country on the continent, with readily available skills that are necessary to run the plant.
He adds that being located in Cape Town means EGA has access to a port, which is a logistical advantage for raw material imports and finished product exports.
The plant has a maximum capacity of 15MW per annum, has created 53 jobs and will operate 24 hours a day, five days a week, says the company.
It notes the plant manager and employees are all women. “Factory workers in all sectors are predominantly men, and we wanted to give the employment opportunity to women from previously-disadvantaged communities,” explains Moolman.
According to EGA, the plant is unique for several reasons, including its focus on small solar panels.
“Small panels are generally more time-consuming and difficult to make than larger panels,” says Rene Salmon, plant manager at EGA’s Cape Town facility.
“As a result, they are more expensive per watt to make than a larger panel. However, high quality and low price are our priorities for a customer base that usually only has access to high-price, low-quality panels,” she adds.
The 20W panels will sell for $18 each, says EGA. In addition to domestic South African sales, they will be distributed to Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. EGA will increase the size of the plant to scale with demand.
Each multi-crystalline 20W panel (4.67 cell design) is 470x350x17mm in size, with cell efficiency of 18% and technical specifications as follows:
- Maximum power (W) 20.63
- Maximum power current (A) 2.81
- Maximum power voltage (V) 7.35
- Short circuit current (A) 3.01
- Open circuit voltage (V) 8.86