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Solar: from an expensive rarity to an affordable necessity

SOLARWORLD celebrates 40 years in business in 2024, a milestone for any organisation in today’s economic climate. Forty years ago, solar energy was a luxury reserved for off-grid homes due to its high cost. Today, it has become a cornerstone of sustainability. SOLARWORLD Africa and its long-standing partners highlight key insights and trends shaping the future of solar energy in South Africa.

PV sector growth and manufacturing overcapacity

In 1975, Kobus Engelbrecht, Managing Director of ATI shares how he held his first solar module that was worth R3 000 back then. It was a 10watt panel making it R300 per watt at the time. Today, panels are priced at approximately R4 per watt peak (Wp) indicating a drop in solar modules’ costs and making solar energy more accessible. 

“The worldwide growth of the photovoltaic (PV) sector has led to a manufacturing overcapacity, resulting in a substantial decrease in PV module prices,” say SOLARWORLD Managing Director, Gregor KuepperKuepper. “This trend underscores the need for strategic planning and innovation within the industry to navigate the evolving market dynamics effectively.”

Caution against local PV module manufacturing

Kuepper cautions against the establishment of PV module manufacturing capability in South Africa, citing the formidable competition posed by China’s manufacturing prowess. The emphasis was placed on the importance of focusing on areas where South Africa can leverage its strengths and resources effectively.

Job creation from solar energy projects

Despite manufacturing challenges, it was highlighted that 90% of jobs in the solar energy sector are created through project implementation, engineering and servicing. This has led to a significant increase in demand for skilled professionals, particularly in rural areas, demonstrating the positive impact of solar energy projects on job creation and economic growth.

Energy revolution and economic impact

The growth of solar PV technology is viewed as a revolution, offering sustainable energy solutions powered by the sun. This shift reduces South Africa’s reliance on diesel fuel imports, freeing up resources that can be allocated to other critical areas of development.

Challenges in education and industry standards

Dallas Cass, of AME Technologies, also touches upon the challenges posed by the gap in education and industry standards within the solar energy sector. It was emphasised that continuous investment in education and training programs is crucial to ensure that industry professionals meet the required standards and uphold best practices.

This thinking is supported by Anthony Adriaans from Current Power Automation: “There is a good bunch of engineers in the country with excellent standards. However, it is up to manufacturers to make sure people comply to the standards and safety of their products.”

Global solar PV capacity and future projections

The briefing also highlighted the rapid growth of the global solar PV sector with new installed capacity reaching 440 GW in 2023, representing a nearly 100% increase in just one year. The total global installed solar PV capacity stood at 1.2 terawatts by the end of 2023, indicating the significant potential for further expansion and innovation within the industry.

The journey of solar energy over the past four decades is a testament to human ingenuity and commitment to sustainability. “As we look ahead, innovations in solar technology continue to drive change, offering practical solutions to modern energy challenges such as load shedding. Despite this, solar energy remains a beacon of hope, offering solutions that not only save costs but also contribute to a sustainable future,” says Kuepper.

SOLARWORLD has led the way in innovation, boasting the largest carport and bifacial installations, showcasing the company’s commitment to cutting-edge technology. As it enters its fifth decade of operation, the company remains committed to driving innovation, sustainability, and job creation within the solar energy sector. 

With a focus on strategic partnerships, industry best practices, and continuous learning, SOLARWORLD Africa is poised to lead the way towards a brighter, more sustainable future for South Africa and beyond.