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Feature story: Solar components – supporting renewable energy

Photovoltaic installation on the Mustek building in Midrand Photo supplied by Green Habitat

Renewable energy has become one of the world’s most prolific growth areas in the power generation (electricity) sector over the past two decades. The price of solar energy equipment has reduced to such an extent that green energy principles are being adopted by governments, industries and private consumers around the world. The growth of this sector is also being favoured more and more by the international community as a more sustainable and affordable solution than other sources of energy.

Following the ongoing challenges in the supply of electricity, the South African government recognised the need for additional power generation in the early 2000s and through the White Paper on Renewable Energy, embarked on an ambitious programme to address shortfalls through the introduction of a renewable energy (REn) sector that could supply the South African market with 20% of its electricity requirements by 2030. The REn sectors include wind, biomass and landfill gas, photo-voltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and hydro generating technologies. In total 17 800 MW has been targeted for the REn sector by 2030 to assist with the government’s vision of establishing a sustainable renewable energy business sector.

Currently six bid phases of the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) are anticipated, three of which are in various stages of bid submission and completion. 2013 saw the start of construction of the projects for Bid Phase 1 (BP1) and solar power. 19 PV projects were awarded in BP1, of which a number have already gone live and are feeding renewable energy into the national grid. Eight PV farms have been allocated in BP2 and another six have been given preferred bidder status during the bid adjudication process for BP3. The solar farms have been largely concentrated in the Northern Cape, which enjoys very conducive weather conditions for maximising solar energy production.

All projects, under the auspices of the Department of Energy, are required to be structured in such a way to support BBBEE, social development and upliftment of communities in the areas of implementation. There are also local content requirements to support South African industries. Through stringent and increasing local content targets, the government wishes to support the sustainability of the local solar component manufacturing sector by “securing” business for expansion, capital investment and technology acquisition.

Hulamin Extrusions has partnered with a number of well-established international solar companies in the construction of these farms, some of which were major international players, in order to meet tight tolerance specifications and comply with project quality plans, and tight delivery schedules to meet project plans. In doing so, Hulamin Extrusions was associated with the supply of the solar panel support structures and bracketry for approximately 343 MW of installed capacity, partnering with large international players such as Terrafix, Schletter and Sun Edison in the process.

From the exceptional lightweight characteristics to the required final shape, along with the durability of the metal, made aluminium extrusions the preferred product in these applications.

With careful planning and project management to meet tight quality and delivery deadlines, as well as the unique capability of its large
10 inch, 3 800 metric tons press in Pietermaritzburg, Hulamin Extrusions was able to benefit from the growth in the renewable sector during 2013.

Looking ahead and in line with government’s focus, reviewing of carbon tax legislation, net metering, installation rebate policy and continuing electricity cost escalations, the rooftop solar sector is expected to enter a strong growth phase. Existing roofs are limited in terms of load bearing capacity and the additional weight of the solar (photo-voltaic or water) installation particularly favours aluminium due to its high strength to weight ratio compared to competing, heavier metals.

The renewable energy sector is about to embark on the second and third phases of the REIPPP and Hulamin Extrusions is keenly awaiting the growth of the renewable energy sector, in line with international market trends.