US-based solar giant SunPower has announced plans to establish a solar panel manufacturing plant in Cape Town, South Africa, that will be capable of producing up to 160 megawatts (MW) of PV annually to meet growing demand in the region.
The new plant will produce SunPower’s high efficiency E20/440 solar panels and house the company’s Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) and Operations & Management (O&M) offices, consolidating its South African business into one building.
The Cape Town factory is expected to create up to 150 local jobs, for which recruitment efforts will begin in the first quarter of 2015.
Demand for solar is indeed rising in South Africa, where rolling power black outs remain a common occurrence, due to the country’s ageing and inefficient coal powered networks – and despite peak power demand falling below 2007 levels and actual electricity use far below forecasts.
Last week, four of the nation’s major cities suffered extended power cuts due to a huge loss in output after a coal storage silo collapsed at a power plant owned by state owned utility Eskom, which supplies 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity.
Eskom has since conceded in Parliament that it cannot guarantee electricity supply security for at least another five years.
Professor Anton Eberhard, a member of South Africa’s National Planning Commission (NPC), recently described the situation as an energy crisis – and the worst such crisis the nation has seen in 40 years.
“In the past three years, we’ve lost the equivalent of an entire coal[-fired] power station through deteriorating plant availability. Of 87 coal-generating units, 32 need major surgery and three are in a critical condition,” Eberhard told delegates at the WINDaba, in Cape Town, on Tuesday.
Eberhard stressed that clarity on South Africa’s broader energy plan was needed, including urgent action on the gas master plan, as well as serious consideration of the contribution of renewable energy, particularly considering solar energy prices had fallen 68 per cent within the last three years, and 42 per cent for wind.
And the solar rollout is happening, slowly. Last month, the commissioning of the nation’s largest PV plant – the 85MW De Aar 3 plant, situated just outside the sleepy Northern Cape town of De Aar – launched South Africa into the global top 10 for utility-scale solar capacity.
The 270 hectare project will be able to generate 150,000 MWh per year for 35 000 households – electricity that Eskom has agreed to purchase for the next 20 years via the national Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme.
SunPower has itself built two ground-mounted solar power projects, totaling 33MW, in South Africa this year, and has another in the pipeline that will begin construction soon.
The development of the panel manufacturing plant suggests the company has plans to build more in the region.
“Our investment in this new plant is part of our commitment to the local South African PV market, and meets our objective to build a sustainable business through local investment and create jobs in the medium and long-term,” said SunPower COO Marty Neese.