SA solar PV market to supersede early estimates

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 26 Apr 2023
SAPVIA CEO Dr Rethabile Melamu.
SAPVIA CEO Dr Rethabile Melamu.

Renewable energy, particularly solar PV, is taking a leading role in South Africa.

This was the word from Dr Rethabile Melamu, CEO of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA).

Melamu was speaking at Huawei FusionSolar 2023, which took place on the sidelines of the Solar and Future Energy Show Africa 2023 at the Sandton Convention Centre yesterday.

Melamu revealed that for the first time, last year’s South African solar PV install capacity, driven by residential and commercial and industrial (C&I) spaces, exceeded 1GW.

“South Africa, as of 2022, is a gigawatt solar PV market. In 2023, we estimate that capacity is likely to double, if not triple.

“This growth is driven by the residential and C&I market, but also the regulatory reforms… where there’s no longer a licence requirement for embedded-generation projects of any size.”

Not-for-profit renewable PV industry body SAPVIA counts organisations such as Huawei, Eskom, the big-four banks, as well as independent power producers as its members.

Highlighting the impact of Africa’s electricity generation crisis, Melamu told the audience that as of last year, 600 million people still did not have access to electricity on the continent.

“We need to do all we can; we’ve already seen great strides that have been made in other parts, but unless we solve this fundamental challenge the continent faces, we will not be able to achieve the socio-economic challenges that we face as a continent.”

Melamu commented that SA has an estimated generation capacity gap of about 5 000MW to 6 000MW. However, she noted this was when the country has stage two load-shedding.

Our demand supersedes the current generation capacity, she emphasised. “Things have gotten really worse and the gap is anything between 10 000MW to 15 000MW − that’s the problem we are dealing with. We know there are maintenance backlogs and that’s why we find ourselves in worse off position than we were about a year ago.”

Further to this, SA has ageing infrastructure. “There are plans to improve the energy availability factor, but some of this capacity will only be available in the next five to 10 years, making a wider opportunity for renewable energy technologies.”

However, she believes the development and funding of the Just Energy Transition framework will be one of the drivers that will propel the industry to the next stage.

According to the SAPVIA CEO, there has been a tremendous increase of interest in utility-scale private projects.

For example, in January, the number of utility private projects registered with the energy regulator was at about 2.4GW, which are projects in the pipeline for development.

“In just two more months of this year, we have seen that number double. There are about 4.6GW of projects...some are online already. If you consider that in the first three months of 2023, there are 2GW of projects that have already been registered with the regulator. This signals how the rest of the year is likely to look like.

“We’re in for a very interesting time and space in South Africa,” she stated, adding that government’s commitment to industrialising the renewable energy market is commendable.

She concluded by stressing that skills development in the renewable energy space is a priority, to advance and grow the industry.

“One of the critical elements that are required to drive our industry is skills development, and Huawei’s skills development initiative is incredible. We are partnering with Huawei, through our PV green card programme, to make sure we get more young people skilled and accredited for the sector.”