Total SA chief executive Christian des Closieres

Johannesburg - Total South Africa has become the first petroleum company to add renewable energy products to its consumer goods offering in South Africa.

Yesterday the company launched its Awango range of solar lights, which is already distributed in 30 countries where Total operates.

The products are primarily aimed at providing a source of lighting for households without electricity. The range comprises three products, with the entry level offering costing about R150 and the upper-end solution costing up to R2 000 for a set of four lamps that can light up a four-bedroomed house.

The middle- to upper-end solutions in the range are able to charge smartphones as well and come with a built-in battery that stores the solar energy for days when the sun does not shine.

On a cloudy day, the solar panels would still allow the lamp to be charged up to two-thirds of the full capacity.

After a full day of charging, the lamps can light up for four to eight hours depending on the brightness setting used. On a bedside setting, a full charge lasts for 100 hours.

Total said the solar products venture was a social business, with lamps priced only to recover the company’s production and distribution costs.

“What we tried as Total was to bring down these costs as much as we can,” Christian des Closières, Total SA’s managing director and chief executive, said.

“First was mass production. We’ve managed to get duty free [entrance] on the product and we are using our existing network to distribute. At each stage we try to minimise the cost so that it arrives at the beneficiary at the lowest possible cost,” he said.

The government levied no import duty on Awango lights to support cheaper delivery of the products to needy communities. To minimise distribution costs, the products would be sold at Total’s filling stations and pop-up stores and the company would work with NGOs to distribute the lights through spaza shops.

Some retail shops would stock the lights but not the major retailers.

Des Closières said Total wanted to take its solar panel business a step further than these lights.

It participated in the second and third windows of the Department of Energy’s renewable energy independent power producers procurement programme, where it was named one of the preferred bidders.

In the second bid window, it had 11 megawatt and 22MW solar plants chosen. In window three, it got the go-ahead for an 86MW plant to be built in the Northern Cape. A few years ago, Total acquired solar panel manufacturer Sun Power.

Des Closières said the price per megawatt of the Northern Cape solar plants was now close to grid parity.

And as the company continues its research to improve the output of its solar panels, it was expecting to reach grid parity in the later rounds of the renewable energy programme, in which it planned to further participate.

Social investments in solar energy initiatives by corporates are gaining momentum. Last week global industry players including First Solar, BAE, Southern Sun Solar and Dehn donated a 20kW photovoltaic plant to Camphill Village on the West Coast. It is estimated that the thin-film solar photovoltaic plant will save R1.44 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years for the dairy, which produces organic milk, cheese and yoghurt products for retail. - Business Report