6 February 2013 – To improve its sustainability, the South African solar industry needs to go beyond subsidised government-managed and monitored programs. That is one of the agenda topics of the 2013 Solar Future South Africa conference, which will take place in Cape Town on 12 February 2013.

“We, as the solar industry in South Africa, have to prove our sustainability and therefore we have to make sure that we create new business cases and reach new off-takers, so we are no longer, or at least less dependent on government programs,” Dick Berlijn, the managing director of Pretoria-based solar electricity development firm Subsolar Energy, says.

Alexi Romano, CEO of the Romano Group agrees: “To be sustainable, the industry needs to become competitive to the extent that it does not have to rely on subsidies. This will be achieved as soon as the cost of solar PV reaches grid parity. Over the past two years the Romano Group has installed nearly 1.0 MWp of rooftop solar PV systems in South Africa,” he adds. “The largest ones being a 300kWp-project in Cape Town, and two in Johannesburg that account for 150kWp and 100kWp.”

The 100 and 150 kWp-systems respectively cover an area of some 750 m² and 1,150 m², of which the latter has a payback time of less than 10 years. One of the Romano group 100 kWp-projects concerns a Pick n Pay branch in Hurlingham, Johannesburg. The system can produce up to 25% of the electricity needed by this particular supermarket and as a result, 4,000 fewer tonnes of carbon will be emitted into the atmosphere in the next 20 years.

Both Berlijn and Romano will be speaking during the 2013 edition of the Solar Future South Africa conference, which is organised by Solarplaza. Solarplaza’s CEO Edwin Koot says, “The conditions for solar in South Africa are excellent. There is an abundance of sunshine and space, the economy is growing, the prices of electricity generated from coal and by Eskom are on the rise and there is a growing demand for a greener and sustainable energy production.”

South Africa is the third best solar location globally as it has one of the highest and the most stable solar radiations in the world and 2,500 hours of sunshine annually. This equals one third of a year (four entire months including nightly hours).

South Africa has ample space to build solar plants. “The northern part boasts hundreds of square kilometres of unutilised land which are perfect for PV,” Koot notes. “One hectare of solar can generate 1.0 MW.”

Speakers at the Solar Future conference include international solar PV guru and entrepreneur Jigar Shah, representatives from the Department of Energy, Eskom’s acting programme manager PV Tobias Bischof-Niemz, and senior project advisor in the Public Private Partnership unit at the National Treasury Karen Breytenbach as well as well as various leading energy contractors and developers from South Africa and abroad.