14 January 2013


The solar debate: going beyond subsidized programmes

“We, as the solar industry in South Africa, have to prove our sustainability and therefore we have to make sure that we create new business cases and reach new off-takers, so we are no longer, or at least less dependent on government programs,” says Dick Berlijn, the managing director of Pretoria-based solar electricity development firm Subsolar Energy.

Alexi Romano, CEO of the Romano Group agrees: “To be sustainable, the industry needs to become competitive to the extent that it does not have to rely on subsidies. This will be achieved as soon as the cost of solar PV reaches grid parity.”

“Over the past two years the Romano Group has installed nearly 1MWp of rooftop solar PV systems in South Africa,” he adds. “The largest ones being a 300kWp-project in Cape Town, and two in Johannesburg that account for 150kWp and 100kWp.”

The 100 and 150 kWp-systems respectively cover an area of some 750 m² and 1150 m², of which the latter has a payback time of less than 10 years.

One of the Romano Group 100KWp-projects concerns a Pick n Pay branch in Hurlingham, Johannesburg. The system can produce up to 25% of the electricity needed by this particular supermarket and as a result, 4.000 fewer tons of carbon will be emitted into the atmosphere in the next 20 years.

Both Berlijn and Romano will be speaking during the 2013 edition of The Solar Future South Africa conference, which is organised by Solarplaza. This international platform for solar energy stakeholders is renowned for its solar energy conferences, of which it has organised over 40 around the world.

Last year, Solarplaza held its first Solar Future conference in South Africa. The event drew over a hundred high profile business leaders, energy experts from around the world, and representatives from the South African government.

“Events like The Solar Future are necessary in countries like South Africa where plans for large-scale solar power projects are on the agenda, but yet have to be put into practice,” Berlijn adds.

Solarplaza's CEO Edwin Koot agrees and adds that it is in all parties' interest to boost South Africa's solar power capacity.

“The conditions for solar in this country are excellent: there is an abundance of sunshine and space, the economy is growing, the prices of electricity generated from coal and by Eskom are on the rise and there is a growing demand for a greener and sustainable energy production,” he says.
South Africa is the third best solar location globally as it has one of the highest and the most stable solar radiations in the world and 2500 hours of sunshine annually. This equals one third of a year (four entire months including nightly hours).

Last but not least, South Africa has ample space to build solar plants. “The northern part boasts hundreds of square kilometres of unutilized land which are perfect for PV,” Koot notes. “One hectare of solar can generate 1 MW.”

Apart from addressing ways to make the South African solar industry more sustainable and elaborating on the reasons why South Africa is such a promising solar location, the 2013 Solar Future South Africa conference – hosted at Southern Sun's Cape Sun hotel,  will touch on how global developments can impact the cost of solar energy in South Africa, the role of solar in Eskom's future energy mix, what it takes to develop a large PV solar plant, and the reasons why mining should consider tapping into solar.

Speakers include international solar PV guru and entrepreneur Jigar Shah, representatives from the Department of Energy, Eskom's acting programme manager PV Tobias Bischof-Niemz, and senior project advisor in the Public Private Partnership unit at the National Treasury Karen Breytenbach as well as well as various leading energy contractors and developers from South Africa and abroad.

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