Cape Town. 140805. Wide Schnabel, Business Development Manager, speaks to Helen Zille at Jinko's new solar panel manufacturing plant in Epping 1. Pic COURTNEY AFRICA

Cape Town - An R80-million factory that makes solar photovoltaic (PV) modules was opened officially in Cape Town on Tuesday.

Multinational company Jinko Solar built the solar PV factory in Epping in response to the government’s renewable energy programme, whereby private companies bid to build wind and solar electricity plants at their own cost and sell green electricity to Eskom. The government requires that the plants include a certain percentage of local content.

The factory has sold more than 300MW of solar panels to South African solar power companies, which is about 30 percent of the market share.

Opening it, Premier Helen Zille said it was a welcome investment in the Western Cape as it would create jobs and grow the economy.

“It also will contribute to our objective of becoming the green economic hub of Africa,” Zille said.

Jinko Solar, the fourth-biggest solar PV manufacturer in the world, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has more than 13 000 employees and has produced about 5.5 gigawatts of products globally.

The factory in Epping can produce 120MW of solar panels a year. It is the newest and most modern plant of its type on the continent.

Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies welcomed its opening as part of his department’s drive to expand manufacturing to increase the industrial base and create much-needed jobs in Epping.

“The opening of Jinko’s state-of-the-art production facility in Cape Town highlights the attractiveness of South Africa as an investment destination and will contribute to establishing the country as a hub for renewable energy and other green economy industries,” Davies said.

His department had begun discussions with Jinko in 2012.

Jinko Solar has operations in China, Europe, Australia, Canada and the US.

Davies said South Africa was becoming a leader in renewable energy. Three years after the launch of the government’s programme to encourage independent power production, the sector was rapidly developing.

Davies, who is attending the US-Africa Summit, said American companies GE and Solar Reserve had expressed interest in investing in the country’s renewable energy industry.

While the government is upbeat about the country’s renewable energy industry, which is one of the fastest-growing in the world with investments of between R120bn and R140bn, snags have arisen that the industry says could curtail interest.

One of the major problems is that Eskom cannot move fast enough to connect the new wind and solar power plants to the national grid to take the green electricity generated.

Eskom told Parliament it would have to pay around R96m to renewable power companies in compensation.

Cape Times