South Africa is the third best solar location globally, as it has one of the highest and most stable solar radiations in the world. With 2 500 hours of sunshine annually – equalling one third of a year or four entire months including nightly hours – the opportunities for this renewable energy source are vast. 
According to Edwin Koot, CEO of leading international solar energy platform, Solarplaza, South Africa is primed to develop this resource.
“The conditions for solar in this country 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.”
The challenge, however, lies in the ability to improve the sustainability of the industry by going beyond subsidised government-managed and monitored programmes. This hot topic forms one of the key debates at the 2013 The Solar Future: South Africa conference, which takes 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,” says Dick Berlijn, MD of Pretoria-based solar electricity development firm Subsolar Energy.
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 1MWp 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 square metres and 1 150 square metres, of which the latter has a payback time of less than 10 years.
One of the Romano Group 100KWp-projects concerns a Pick’n’Pay branch in Hurlingham, Johannesburg. The system can produce up to a massive 25% of the electricity needed by this particular supermarket and as a result, 4 000 fewer tons of carbon will be emitted into the atmosphere in the next 20 years.
Both Berlijn and Romano will be speaking at the 2013 The Solar Future: South Africa conference, which is organised by Solarplaza.
Apart from addressing ways to make the South African solar industry more sustainable and elaborating on the reasons why South Africa is such a promising solar location, the conference hosted at Southern Sun’s Cape Sun Hotel will cover how global developments can impact the cost of solar energy in South Africa; the role of solar in Eskom’s future energy mix; what it takes to develop a large PV solar plant; and the reasons why mining should consider tapping into solar.
Speakers 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 various leading energy contractors and developers from South Africa and abroad.