Durban is now home to the first locally owned photovoltaic (PV) solar panel manufacturing plant in South Africa and the most advanced facility of its kind in Africa.
That’s the word from the directors of a newly establishing company, ART Solar, based in the New Germany Industrial Park.
The ART Solar plant, believed to be an investment of between R50 million and R100m, was quietly opened. However, the owners have aspirations for the company to grow into a significant player in the renewable energy or “green technology” sector.
The investment represents a significant private sector boost to the provincial government’s nascent plans for KwaZulu-Natal to become a “green technology” manufacturing hub on the continent.
“This newly established facility – the largest and most modern PV module fabrication plant in Africa – has the capacity to manufacture 250 000 PV modules annually. This is the equivalent to 75 megawatts of electricity, which is sufficient to power at least 15 000 homes a year,” said Dr Ronald Lange, chief operating officer for ART Solar.
Interest in PV technology has heightened since the launch of the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme in 2011. Through this initiative, the government aims to procure and install 1.45 gigawatts of PV capacity by the end of next year.
Mark Walsh, managing director of ART Solar, said the company had made a “significant investment” in the 3500m² hi-tech facility but was not at liberty to talk about the value of the capital investment into the private venture.
He said the company was locally owned and set up by a group of KZN business people who wanted to take advantage of the opportunities arising out of the growing renewable energy sector. He said the company employed about 20 people in this first phase and with growth more jobs would be created.
“What sets ART Solar apart in an increasingly competitive sector is the company’s investment in the latest machinery from Switzerland and Germany, adherence to stringent global quality manufacturing specifications, a comprehensive training programme by overseas specialists and co-operation with international PV experts.
“PV modules, which adhere to stringent International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) specifications, are certified at ART Solar by the leading and independent test institute, TüV Rheinland in Germany. The establishment of ART Solar gives the South African market access to high quality, aesthetically pleasing and locally manufactured PV panels,” said Walsh.
“With the investment in solar PV modules, users are able to generate electricity and benefit from cost savings in the long term. An advantage for the local market is that funding for renewable energy projects is available. South Africa will also benefit from noting the faults and successes of solar power projects implemented around the world,” said Walsh.
Liesel Beires, a “green economy” specialist at KZN’s Economic Development Department and chairwoman of the Provincial Renewable Energy Workgroup, said the ART Solar investment was an exciting project for the sector in KZN.
“We had the opportunity to tour the facility and it was very impressive. Well over R50m must have been invested in setting it up, but more importantly, it is a great showcase project for the renewable energy sector in KZN,” she said.
“This could mark the start for great things in this space for KZN. It will not only stimulate the local market, but as the first manufacturing facility of its kind, it could attract other renewable energy projects to the province. The provincial government has serious ambitions for this sector and for KZN to become a hub of ‘green economy on the continent’,” said Beires.
Lange said PV technology was a reliable and proven source of electricity because of its environmentally friendly and cost efficient features.
“PV modules – which use daylight to generate electricity – are gaining popularity globally as a form of renewable energy that is clean, emission and noise-free, sustainable, safe and cost efficient. These modules are easy to install and require no maintenance, apart from occasional cleaning. They also have an estimated 40-year lifetime,” he said.
Lange said ART Solar had also launched a PV competence network in KZN which would create a solar market and drive the market’s development with local enterprises.