Business Maverick


New Cape Town solar panel plant gives power to the ‘true agents of change’ — women

New Cape Town solar panel plant gives power to the ‘true agents of change’ — women
(Photos: Facebook / @Ener-G-Africa)

A new facility in Cape Town is providing clean cooking and renewable energy solutions that will serve low-income households across sub-Saharan Africa.

Small solar panels intended for the African market are invariably cheap and cheerful — made in smaller facilities and sold without proper certification, which has led to the continent being flooded with inferior-quality products. 

In the Americas and Europe, high-quality small solar panels are readily available, but sold at a price that would not be affordable for low-income households.

A new facility in Cape Town hopes to challenge the state of affairs by democratising clean cooking and renewable energy solutions that will serve low-income households across sub-Saharan Africa.

Ener-G-Africa’s (EGA’s) new facility was launched on Thursday in Ndabeni, Cape Town, as the first and only small solar panel plant in the world certified by TUV Rheinland, a German-accredited and approved inspection authority.

It will manufacture solar panels that can be used with its biomass stoves, which are sold both locally and abroad.

André Moolman, the CEO of EGA, says that typically, the major solar panel manufacturers produce larger panels targeted at utility-scale projects and business and residential installations.

“South Africa is the most technologically capable country on the continent, with really valuable skills. Cape Town also has access to the port, which is logistically advantageous for importing non-locally manufactured products and also exporting our finished products. 

“We source a lot of components locally, including aluminium fryers, wiring, junction boxes, adhesives and packaging … We have created 53 jobs and we operate 24 hours a day, five days a week.”

With plans to triple capacity in the next 18 months, the Ndabeni facility was a proof of concept for EGA.

Complimenting the Western Cape government for incentivising EGA’s $1.5-million (R25-million) investment in the city, Kenneth Newcombe, the co-founder and chairman of EGA, said they were impressed by the commitment to a green economy.

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Newcombe is also the CEO of C-Quest Capital, a social impact investment company. C-Quest says that without empowering especially rural women, it will be difficult to transform and create a community that prospers in the face of climate change.

“From one angle, we’re a cookstove business. We’re present in nine countries, moving to 16 countries this year including South Korea. Fundamentally, we believe that unless you make cooking easier, cleaner, faster and healthier, you will continue to trap women in the drudgery of the daily toil which involves them cutting and carrying goods for long distances, being unhealthy, effectively smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day, while they’re fostering kids on their back, and you will lock up the potential for transformative change.

“We look at clean cooking as a foundation to build on, to transform agriculture, to create opportunities for the true agents of change — women.”

Newcombe said substandard products played up the difference between the haves and the have-nots, giving the underprivileged a lack of confidence in their own technology transition and were a misuse of their scarce resources. 

The launch was attended by James Vos, the City of Cape Town’s Mayco Member for Economic Growth, and Wrenelle Stander, the CEO of Wesgro.

Rene Salmon, the plant manager, said: “Small panels are generally more time-consuming and difficult to make than larger panels. As a result, they are more expensive per watt to make than a larger panel. However, high quality and low price are our priorities.”

The 20W panels will sell for $18 (R306) each in South Africa, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

The future of energy in Africa started with solar in almost every fundamental way, but solar was just one part of the story, said Newcombe: “Efficient stoves are important and they can get cleaner and better, by reducing household air pollution and taking away the burden of disease which plagues a lot of Africa.” DM/BM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lesley Young says:

    Wot! No pictures of the product and the biomass stove(whatever that is)?

    • Cobus Elstadt says:

      I have just been on their website and not a single picture of the solar panel. A picture of what looks like an ordinary home made wood burning stove; there are YouTube videos that shows you how to build those and better.

  • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

    This is great. Practical common sense stuff. Your support for the idea is valuable and public spirited …. It is pity you do not take it further by giving them a helping hand by slipping in a little “proper” advertising.

  • frances hardie says:


  • Dietmar Horn says:

    A biomass stove is a gas stove that does not draw gas from the gas bottle but from the built-in biomass converter. The energy content of wood is converted into usable cooking energy much more efficiently than is possible with an open grill fire. The solar power is used to operate the fan of the biomass reactor, and in higher-quality models also to control the process. The entire unit is therefore network-independent. A really good idea to make a certified system available for low-income households.

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