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WATCH: Ford going further with solar power at Silverton plant

The solar project still fulfils its promise of lowering the company's environmental footprint and promoting a greener, more sustainable future. Picture: TheOtherKev Pixabay

The solar project still fulfils its promise of lowering the company's environmental footprint and promoting a greener, more sustainable future. Picture: TheOtherKev Pixabay

Published May 21, 2022

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Private companies are certainly leading the way into a greener, more sustainable future, with Ford’s brand-new solar farm at its Silverton plant proving that a just transition is not difficult to achieve.

Ford South Africa has officially switched on 30 226 solar panels, which will provide 35% of its electricity needs. Ford SA has a long-term power purchase agreement in place with SolarAfrica, which installed the photovoltaic panel carports at the Silverton plant, in Pretoria.

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Engineering Weekly reported that SolarAfrica’s large-scale solar array will generate 13.5MW of clean electricity for the plant. The installation is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and a ground-breaking renewable energy project for the domestic vehicle manufacturing industry.

A press release said that the solar project supports Ford’s ambitious global targets to generate 100% clean, emissions-free electricity, across all its manufacturing operations by the year 2035, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Ford SA operations vice president Ockert Berry said in a statement that: “Ford SA is delighted to officially flip the switch and begin receiving 35% of our electricity from the solar carports with the completion of the first phase of our Project Blue Oval renewable energy programme.”

Berry added that the project proudly puts the Silverton assembly plant on the map as part of Ford’s commitment to sustainability, as the company migrates its energy supply from fossil fuels to environment-friendly, renewable resources.

“Through the long-term power purchase agreement with SolarAfrica, this project will also significantly reduce our energy costs, thereby improving the efficiency and cost competitiveness of the plant,” Berry notes.

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“It is another big step forward in modernising our manufacturing operations as we build up to the highly anticipated launch of the must-have product – that is the next-generation Ranger – later this year,” said Berry.

Ford invested R15.8 billion in the Silverton plant, as well as in supplier tooling in the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone, for the next-generation Ranger bakkie, which it supplies to more than a hundred international markets.

Although the manufacturer increased production to 200 000 vehicles a year, the solar project still fulfils its promise of lowering the company's environmental footprint and promoting a greener, more sustainable future.

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The solar installation was completed in just under 600 days, and supported 121 jobs in the construction and installation phase.

The company said that around 59 tonnes of steel and 315 tonnes of aluminium were used for the locally manufactured solar carports, with more than 5 000m of both medium and low voltage cabling used to connect the solar panels to 120 three-phase 100kW inverters and eight transformers, before being fed into the plant.

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The solar PV array will eliminate the equivalent of 20 072 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

“With the solar project now complete and fully operational, we are evaluating the next steps for Project Blue Oval, as we strive to ultimately have the Silverton plant completely energy self-sufficient and 100% carbon neutral,” said Berry.

SolarAfrica CEO David McDonald praised Ford SA's vision of incorporating renewables into its local operations and expressed optimism that more original equipment manufacturers will follow suit.

“Aside from the environmental and cost benefits, the Ford SA solar project has had a big impact on job creation in the Tshwane area, which is fully supported by the City of Tshwane, as it forms part of the city’s focus to grow the automotive industry as a key driver for employment,” said McDonald.

“We are glad to be contributing to the sustainability of this sector and assist Ford in bringing its vision of job creation to life, hopefully leading to further industry growth and indirect employment,” notes McDonald.

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