by Chris Yelland, EE Business Intelligence
LONGi Solar, said to be the world’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) technology company, is partnering with Durban-based solar PV panel manufacturer, ARTsolar, to meet the requirements of the South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) Risk Mitigation IPP Procurement (RMIPPP) programme, and beyond.
LONGi, a Tier 1 solar PV manufacturer listed on the Shanghai stock exchange, supplies more than 30 GW of high-efficiency solar wafers and PV panels worldwide annually, which comprises about a quarter of global market demand.
ARTsolar was established in Durban in 2010 by entrepreneurs Eshu Seevnarayan and Patrick Goss, who remain shareholders of the 100% South African-owned company. Its current PV panel production line was designed for a capacity of 300 MW a year, although due to market conditions over the last five years, it has been operating significantly below this level.
On 19 March 2021, DMRE Minister Gwede Mantashe announced preferred bidders for the RMIPPP programme, which alone will require some 2,2-million solar PV panels with a total capacity of about 1300 MW for delivery of power into the grid by the end of August 2022. To achieve this ambitious target, the projects must reach financial closure by the end of July 2021.
A further two procurement rounds of green energy from solar PV projects, each with a capacity of 1000 MW, are expected to commence in 2021, facilitated by the IPP Office of the DMRE for South Africa’s Renewable Energy IPP Procurement (REIPPP) programme in terms of the national Integrated Resource Plan for electricity, IRP 2019.
LONGi and ARTsolar have ambitions to be the major supplier of locally made solar PV panels for the RMIPPP and REIPPP programmes, and for subsequent procurements of solar power in South Africa and the region, for mainly utility-scale PV power plants.
The long gestation period of the RMIPPP programme provided ARTsolar time to plan a new, state-of-the-art, 500 MW per year, solar PV panel assembly facility in partnership with LONGi. Eshu Seevnarayan says the new facility will commence assembly and stockpiling of panels in August 2021, for delivery starting in the first quarter of 2022.
“It is significant that this will be the only LONGi solar PV panel assembly plant to be operating in Africa. This demonstrates the commitment and confidence of both companies in South Africa and the region”, said Viren Gosai, general manager at ARTsolar.
A second 500 MW capacity assembly line is planned to follow shortly after the first commences operation, bringing ARTsolar’s new capacity to 1 GW per year. The existing 300 MW per year facility will then focus on the less demanding but fast growing domestic, commercial, and industrial rooftop solar PV sectors in the region.
The two new ARTsolar assembly lines will be completely separate from the existing 300 MW per year facility situated in the Pinetown industrial area of Durban. The solar PV cell stringer, busbar, lamination, and framing machines for the new assembly lines will be procured by ARTsolar from LONGi’s well-established and world-renowned plant suppliers.
The new solar PV panel assembly lines will initially produce state-of-the-art LONGi bifacial solar PV modules with 540 W output, using 182 mm, half-cut PV cells and nine busbars (upgradable to twelve if required in the future).
All materials, including the solar PV cells themselves, will be supplied by LONGi, and the full manufacturing process, including testing and quality assurance, will be operated under the direct supervision of LONGi staff. The PV panels will be delivered to the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) operations of the project developers, under the LONGi brand, label and warranty.
It is expected that LONGi’s Tier 1 status, 30-year warranty, TUV approved bill-of-materials, ISO 9001 certified quality management system and their overall supervision of the process, will provide sufficient comfort to developers and bankability by lenders for the locally assembled product.
“As there is a genuine long-term commitment to localisation, we will be there to support and facilitate this commitment. This also shows our proximity to the Africa market.”, said LONGi’s MEA (Middle East and Africa) Regional Business Development Managers, Emeka Wosu and Ulrich Dedo, in brief discussions with EE Business Intelligence recently.
Since starting the first solar PV panel assembly line in 2010, ARTsolar has diversified into systems integration for the engineering, supply, and installation of complete, turnkey, grid-tied solar PV and battery energy storage projects in the domestic, commercial industrial and utility sectors.
The company has invested significantly in technical training and skills development in close association with the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN). The new 1 GW assembly facilities will add a further permanent 500 jobs to their existing workforce.
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