Current Date: 28 May, 2024

South Africa uses solar energy to help end power outages

To help solve the problem and improve its environmental credentials, the South African government now increases the country's solar power generation capacity. To accomplish this, it encourages firms in the sector to bid on contracts.

This is why Nolwazi Zulu, a young engineer, claims that she decided to "go out and do something" about the frequent power outages that plagued her neighbourhood as a teenager.

Ms Zulu, now 25 years old, is from rural Kwazulu-Natal on South Africa's east coast. Since 2008, her province, like the rest of the nation, has experienced frequent blackouts known as "load-shedding."

South Africa uses solar energy to help end power outages

This results from South Africa's state-owned, ageing power grid and its mostly coal-fueled power plants' inability to meet demand. 

South Africa has ideal conditions for solar energy.  It is seeking an additional 1,000 megawatts of solar power, which would be enough to power approximately one million homes in the country. In addition, the company wants to increase onshore wind power generation by 1,600 megawatts.

Only 11% of South Africa's power is generated by renewables, most of which is wind. Solar accounts for only 0.9% of total energy consumption in a country that receives an average of eight to ten hours of sunlight per day, compared to the UK's four.

Art Solar, South Africa's only solar panel manufacturer, has won one of the solar bids. Art is an abbreviation for “African Renewable Technology.” Ms. Zulu works in the company's design team while studying electrical power engineering at the Durban University of Technology.


She claims that solar panels can help the national power grid by providing power to many rural homes that aren't connected to the grid. Art Solar just inaugurated a new production facility at its location in Durban.

In Ulundi, where she grew up, Ms. Zulu says, "I want to open an Art Solar branch and bring solar to my village." It will change a lot of lives and is more affordable and superior to the way we are currently living with load shedding.

With a license from the German company Bosch, Durban-based Art Solar began producing solar panels 12 years ago. It now has panels in collaboration with a fellow German business, Talesun, for both the South African and global markets.

The government's push for solar energy, according to general manager Viren Gosai, has given the business the morale to open a new facility that can produce 650,000 panels annually.

Even though its panels are more expensive than lower-quality imports that are not subject to import tariffs, it also supplies private homes and businesses.

Mr. Gosai stated that "lockdowns and COVID-19 were bad in many ways." However, it did have one benefit: it made people more patriotic. People are loyal, want to support their community, and prefer to shop locally.

New Tech Industry

The series "New Tech Economy" examines how technological advancement is expected to influence the new, emerging economic landscape. Last year, Art Solar completed a high-profile contract to supply solar panels for a private hospital in Durban.

It implies no risk of power outages at the Ahmed Al-Kadi Hospital. Another solar energy company, Zola Electric, has a solution for power supply that disregards national grids in East African nations, including Tanzania.

Instead, it wants to build independent "mini-grids" for villages and other communities rather than connecting solar panel farms to national power systems.

Zola Energy constructs mini-grids that use solar energy to power villages

Bill Lenihan, CEO of Zola, says we need to “move beyond legacy ways of thinking about energy access, especially in Africa.” In addition to switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, he adds, people in emerging markets are beginning to question the viability of a single energy grid.

"Everyone was saying, "We're going to build a grid," in their heads. You are not, however, creating grids. "A century later, people in places like Africa still need access to valuable grids and won't buy them because this technology needs to be appropriate for emerging markets.

This assertion is no longer debatable. For the 20% of South African homes that aren't connected to Eskom's grid, Jay Naidoo, a former minister in Nelson Mandela's administration, favours the concept of such distinctive mini-grids.

According to Jay Naidoo, Mini-grids might be the answer for South Africa's most rural communities. He currently lives and works as a trustee for the Earthrise Trust, an eco-farming initiative in the rural Free State province.

Mr Naidoo states, "Our goal is to empower rural communities, especially women and the youth who contribute to economic growth." "However, power is still a problem, impeding the farm's prospects and self-sufficiency.

"Imagine meeting our needs with a micro-solar grid owned by the community. It could energize numerous communities and produce assets that belong to them."

Earthlife Africa, a South African environmental advocacy group, has long demanded that the nation use more renewable energy. Earthlife director Makoma Lekalakala laments, "We've missed out on investing in solar." If we had, the crisis with the power cuts would be over.

Instead, we have leaned on the idea that coal is the baseline and that we have coal. She continues we wasted a lot of time and ignored the climate commitments we made in international forums. Solar energy should have been adopted "long ago" in South Africa.

A request for comment still needs to be answered by the Department of Mining Resources and Energy of South Africa. Ms Zulu says she is overjoyed that Art Solar plans to open a branch in her neighbourhood as the company ramps up production.

Mr Gosai claims to be optimistic about the future of solar energy in the nation. "South Africa has incredible lighting, and a lot of daylight equals a high rate of return on investment. Our people support us, too."

Excellence Chukwuma Chukwunaedu

Excellence Chukwuma Chukwunaedu

I enjoy marketing, technology and business. I help businesses and brands connect with their ideal customer profiles and build products that excite them and solve their problems.