The erection of PV panels underway in the employee car park. From left: Nick Chapman, Graham Partington, Reabetsoe Kgoedi, Michael Petrie, Ntsapokazi Ningiza, Albert Brand and Deon Nel. Image courtesy of VWGA.

Volkswagen Group Africa Adds 3 MW Solar PV Carport At Its Kariega Car Factory

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Volkswagen Group Africa has reiterated its commitment to using renewable energy. Volkswagen Group Africa says transitioning to renewable energy is more than just a means to avoid the disruptive effects of power outages for Volkswagen Group Africa (VWGA), but rather a conscious step towards reducing the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

South Africa has been rationing electricity regularly over the past few years, and these rationing cycles affect large manufacturing plants as well, especially during periods when the country’s coal-dominated electricity generation fleet is severely constrained. The electricity generation shortfall is usually due to a combination of planned and unplanned outages at aging coal powered plants.

Recognizing the effect of fossil fuels on global climate change, VWGA says it is striving to minimize its dependence on these energy sources. South Africa celebrates Energy Month in May, and therefore, VWGA has taken the opportunity to highlight its commitment to become carbon neutral in vehicle and component production by 2030 through its Zero Impact Factory initiatives. According to the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, manufacturing in Nelson Mandela Bay, where VWGA is headquartered, accounts for at least 55% of electricity consumption. As more manufacturers in the region, such as VWGA, start to incorporate more renewables to their electricity mix, the share of renewables in the region’s energy mix will grow, providing a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

VWGA is in the process of completing the installation of 3 MWp of solar PV in the employee car park at the Kariega factory. The solar PV plant is expected to be operational by September. The latest installation complements the existing 2.6 MWp of rooftop PV panels in the vehicle assembly plant and the 163 kWp at the component manufacturing plant. This will bring the total solar PV installation at the site to 5.6 MWp. The Kariega plant produces models such as the VW Polo. VWGA is South Africa’s largest exporter of passenger cars.

Ulrich Schwabe, VWGA Production Director, emphasized the importance of transitioning to renewable energy. “Our plan to become a Zero Impact Factory by 2030 aligns with our global Group Strategy Way to Zero. We all witness the effects of climate change and its impact on biodiversity. Our commitment to carbon neutrality reflects the urgency for immediate action,” said Schwabe.

South African homes and businesses have really ramped up adoption of solar PV, especially over the past 2 years. South Africa’s national electric utility company, Eskom, recently published a system status update where it reported that the estimated total solar PV installed at rooftops of homes and businesses is now 5,440 MW. South Africa also has about 2,800 MW of utility-scale solar PV and concentrated solar.

These distributed and large centralized solar plants are playing a significant role in enabling Eskom to replenish its pumped storage capacity during the day by picking up a decent portion of the daytime demand. Eskom can then use this pumped storage along with its fleet of open cycle gas turbines during the evening peaks when necessary. South Africa has an installed electricity generation capacity of about 55,000 MW, however quite a good chunk of this capacity is from aging coal power plants that experience frequent breakdowns. It’s great to see that the more than 8,000 MW of solar is starting to play a decent role during daytime hours.

A lot more rooftop solar is on the way in South Africa. Last year, many businesses registered their planned solar PV projects with South Africa’s energy regulator, NERSA. These projects are at various stages of development and will soon add some much need generation capacity to South Africa’s electricity generation mix. It’s great to see factories such as VWGA’s Kariega plant being part of this solar PV drive.

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since.

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has 778 posts and counting. See all posts by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai