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Article

1 Dec 2022

Author:
Julia Fish, BBC News

S. Africa: Government’s push to solar has seen an increase in production of solar panels and a possible solution to power cuts

‘South Africa turns to solar to help stop power cuts’ 29 November 2022

Young engineer Nolwazi Zulu says that when she was a teenager she decided that she would "go out and do something" about the regular power cuts that bedevil her community. Now 25 years old, Ms Zulu is from rural Kwazulu-Natal on the eastern coast of South Africa. Like the rest of the country her home province has had to endure frequent blackouts, called "load-shedding", since 2008. This has been caused by South Africa's aging, state-owned power grid, and its mainly coal-fuelled power stations, struggling to keep up with demand. To try to help solve the problem, and boost its environmental credentials, the South African government is now continuing with efforts to boost the amount of solar-power generation in the country. To do this it is encouraging firms in the sector to tender for contracts.

…Currently only 11% of South Africa's power comes from renewables, and mostly wind. Just 0.9% so far comes from solar, in a country that gets an average eight to 10 hours of sun every day, compared with the UK's four…One firm that has won one of the solar bids is Art Solar, the only South African-owned solar panel manufacturer. The word Art stands for "African Renewable Technology". It is at this company that Ms Zulu works in the design team as she continues to study for a diploma in electrical power engineering at the Durban University of Technology. In addition to helping the national power grid, she says that solar panels can bring power to the many rural homes that aren't connected to the mains.

…General manager Viren Gosai says that the government's solar push has given the company the confidence to open a new facility that is capable of producing 650,000 panels per year. It also supplies private homes and businesses, despite its panels being more expensive than lower-quality imports that don't face any import tariffs…South African environmental campaigning organisation Earthlife Africa has been calling for more renewable power in the country for some time. "We've missed out on investing in solar," says Earthlife director Makoma Lekalakala. "We would be beyond the [power cuts] crisis if we had."