First South African-owned solar PV manufacturer sets up in Durban

Submitted by: Jonathan Ramayia, Friday, May 3, 2013

<p>ARTSolar’s state-of-the-art Solar PV manufacturing facility (Image Source: ARTSolar)</p>

ARTSolar’s state-of-the-art Solar PV manufacturing facility (Image Source: ARTSolar)

New solar PV manufacturer, ARTSolar has become one of the most advanced solar manufacturing facilities in Africa. With a capacity to make 250,000 solar PV modules per year the facility, located in New Germany, is also one of the most productive.

“We set up the facility in order to cater for the demand from the national renewable energy programme kick-started by the government two years ago”, said Ronald Lange, chief operating officer of ARTSolar. The national renewable energy independent power producers programme (REIPPP) aims to procure 3,725MW of energy from renewable energy resources, including over 1,400MW  from solar PV. ARTSolar estimates that their share of Solar PV panel production will be between 50-75MW per year, comparing favourably with the two other notable solar PV manufacturing facilities based in Cape Town.

Most advanced facility in the country

The state-of-the-art facility consists of three primary components, including the ‘stringer’ where the electrical cell connection takes place; the ‘laminator’, where the cells are laminated; and the ‘sun simulator’, where the modules are tested. The facility, which uses brand new Swiss machinery, is largely automated which ensures high levels of production but also consistent quality in modules, explained Lange.  Elements of the production process, such as edge trimming, placement of the junction box and assembly of the frame, have been kept manual to maximise job creation. The ARTSolar manufacturing facility is highly automated but still requires manual input in their production processes (Image Source: ARTSolar)

Local content and competing with international market

“The PV modules are designed to suit customer requirements which range from the aesthetics to size of the modules, where modules can consist of 48, 60 or 72 cells”, said Lange. The cells are made of silicon an abundant and nontoxic material and are imported from greater China which is the world’s most cost-efficient producer of the high-quality cells.

Apart from the silicon cells being imported, the connection boxes are made locally and the glass and aluminium sourced locally. This is important as the local content requirements for solar PV stipulated in the REIPPP has moved up from 35% in the first and second REIPPP round, to 45% in the third round. Depending on the type of materials included in the panels the local content can range from 5-50%, notes Lange. In order to achieve a local content of 50% of the solar modules, Lange estimates the price will be about 10-15% higher than equivalents with less local content.

Quality assurance has been built into the production, where ARTSolar’s PV modules adhere to specifications set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The Solar PV modules are certified by an independent test institute, TüV Rheinland in Germany. The high quality and cost of solar modules being produced in South Africa are globally comparable which bodes well for the future of the local PV industry, said Lange.

Growing the local market

The manufacturer is looking beyond production and plans are afoot to set up a local PV competence network with the goals focussing on “stimulating the market, making politicians and the general public aware of what’s going on in the industry and to clarify some of the issues and misconceptions about PV”, said Lange. “Awareness is the one side. The other side is business, we want this network to link up with installers and wholesalers and suppliers of various components of a PV system. The idea is for us to all work together since ARTSolar only manufactures modules, which is only one component of what goes into a solar PV project. We also need to know who the inverter manufacturers and other key players are in the region in order to grow the industry and know who to direct the customers who we have access to things we are unable to assist with”, said Lange.

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Jonathan Ramayia