One of South Africa’s most important economic hubs has received a significant boost with the official launch of a transformative renewable energy project.
A partnership between South32 Hillside Aluminium, Solana Energy and Absa Corporate and Investment Banking is already transforming the Richards Bay and King Cetshwayo District (KCD) economic regions through the development of critical renewable energy skills and generation projects for industrial and commercial users.
“We think this is one of the most unique renewable energy projects in the country at the moment,” says Solana Energy head of Business Development Ahmed Motara.
“From the funding model right through to the skills development and new venture creation elements, we believe that this project could serve as a blueprint for renewable energy partnerships across South Africa,” he adds.
This sentiment is echoed by South32 Hillside Aluminium Vice President of Operations Calvin Mkhabela. “The Solana project not only allows us to re-imagine energy security for our key stakeholders, it also allows us as a responsible corporate citizen to play our part in contributing to South Africa’s economic recovery.”
The project comprises three distinct elements aimed at capacitating the renewable energy ecosystem:
A lighter load for Hillside stakeholders
As one of South Africa’s most important economic hubs, it has been critical for the region to stabilise electricity supply to ensure that industrial and commercial users can continue to deliver economic growth. Solana and South32 identified key businesses in the region and are collaborating on the rollout of 2.5 MW of generation projects that are aimed at suppliers of goods and services to South32 and other businesses in the area. This investment is expected to boost energy capacity and ensure a more prosperous economic environment.
These projects are expected to be online in early 2023 and will support the creation of much needed jobs in the KCD.
“We cannot view our energy needs in isolation and this is why we have identified key suppliers and partners in the region and given them capacity to keep their operations going – if they thrive, we as a province thrive,” says Mkhabela.
Skills transformation is a must
Soft-launched in September 2022, the Solana training academy is based at the South32 ESD centre and is responsible for developing the requisite skills for installations in both the Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) markets.
Independent electricians and youth are being trained on installation techniques and processes. A total of 14 fulltime jobs have already been created in the KCD, comprising the first cohort to have graduated through the academy’s 10-week specialised solar programme. Three existing small electrical businesses have also graduated through the programme and will begin supervised work on solar installations in both the B2B and B2C markets. Further courses and certifications will be made available in 2023 as the Solana training academy will provide much needed skills that will be absorbed into the solar energy market.
With a record number of business days lost to loadshedding in 2022, the demand for solar installations is outstripping installer capacity. Solana recognised that the only way that it could ensure a sustainable ecosystem is through the development of the skills that are needed to support the growth of the solar energy industry in South Africa.
“It is critical for us that installers are properly qualified and that the skills most needed to support the rapid growth of the solar energy market are identified and taught in the academy. This demand-led profiling for jobs and the integration of the academy into the broader solar ecosystem will ensure that we deliver much needed jobs to the KCD and KwaZulu-Natal province,” says Motara.
Ready for residential installation boom
According to data gathered by Reuters, South Africa imported over R2.2-billion worth of solar photovoltaic panels in the first five months of 2022.
The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) believes that once this installation capacity is installed, it will surpass over a decade of what the government has been able to procure in solar energy.
With solar now becoming a regular feature for businesses of all shapes and sizes, residential users are investing in solar installations and this growth is being accelerated due to prolonged loadshedding. Innovative solutions are required to broaden access to solar for homeowners across income spectrums and small businesses who have borne the brunt of loadshedding. The high cost of the initial investment to set up solar remains a barrier to entry. Solana will offer a range of flexible financial options to homeowners and small businesses to have solar installed. The model delivers savings to consumers and provides much needed relief from loadshedding. Through its network of installers, Solana are providing qualified electricians to meet this growing demand and these jobs are supported long-term through operation and maintenance support on an ongoing basis.
“Not only are residential users investing in solar for their current energy needs, but they are also seeing the benefits of lower costs and a way of enhancing the value of their properties,” Motara says.
A driver for economic growth in KZN
The South African economy has failed to recognise its true potential due to irregular electricity supply, but innovative clean energy projects offer the potential to be a catalyst for economic growth in the coming decade.
The scale of the challenge cannot simply be addressed by individual role players but requires a collaborative approach as demonstrated by the partnership between Solana and South32 to drive rapid rollout of these key projects.
“The Richards Bay and KCD regions are one of South Africa’s most critical economic nodes and we are proud to have partnered with Solana Energy on such an innovative transaction,” concludes Mkhabela.