In an interesting chat with SolarQuarter Africa magazine, Anre Gous- MD, ACES Africa gave us the company’s background and the recent major projects executed. He also informed about the key learning and policies that other African regions should adopt from South Africa to push their solar industry forward along with the future growth aspects of distributed solar over the next few years.
Can you give a bit of background about yourself and the company?
ACES Africa was established in 2003 by our CEO, Charl Gous. From 2003 to 2012, the company specialized in electrical engineering and electrical contracting. I then joined the company in 2012 after my studies at Stellenbosch University, where I studied and completed my degree in Marketing and Business. During my first year at ACES, we had more inquiries around Renewable Energy and Solar PV in particular, so in 2015 I decided to lead the renewable energy drive within ACES Africa and we started an entire Solar PV division in the company. I led business development within ACES and also led our BiPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaic) division from inception to 2020. Since 2015, ACES Africa has grown into one of Southern Africa’s most trusted Solar PV companies, having implemented over 180 C&I projects across 6 countries in Africa with over 50MWp energized in that time. Our team has also consulted with many of South Africa’s leading energy and engineering companies on renewable energy systems. In early 2021, I was appointed as Managing Director at ACES and together with our new head of business development, Seraj Chilwan, spearheaded the growth and strategy for ACES into Africa as a whole. We pride ourselves on being one of Southern Africa and of Africa’s leading Solar PV installation companies and leading the development of clean energy access for Africa as a whole.
Please give our readers brief insight about the recent major projects done by your company in Africa.
ACES Africa has implemented some groundbreaking projects, especially in Africa, more particularly in Kenya. We developed and built Africa’s largest BiPV skylight in Nairobi for I&M Bank Kenya in 2019. The skylight is made from 2300m2 of transparent BiPV glass which generates clean energy for the Bank’s head office during daylight hours and promotes green energy and reduces carbon emissions to promote a sustainable building. We also are currently developing similar projects for the likes of Microsoft, Mediclinic, and others across Africa. We recently in 2020 won the bid to supply Mediclinic Group (ACES Africa inks deal with Mediclinic Group) with Solar PV on ten of their private hospitals throughout South Africa and Namibia.
What is the current situation with regard to the solar sector in South Africa and the solar market throughout the wider region?
The solar sector in South Africa is booming at the moment. With President Ramaphosa’s announcement on lifting the embedded generation cap from 1MW to 100MW; every sector is considering alternative clean energy sources in order to be less reliant on coal-based energy sources. Not only for a cleaner energy future but also to be more independent from the current energy provider; Eskom and its troubles with load shedding; impacting our economy greatly. Businesses are now seeing that solar PV does make business sense with returns on investment in the commercial and industrial sectors reaching below 5 years now. The wider region is following suit; neighboring countries such as Namibia and Botswana have national strategies and plans to build renewable energy generation plants; a large portion of that being solar. We have already seen several tenders in the market from not only the public sector but from the private sector too; for example the mining sector in Southern Africa.
Your company has been doing projects across Africa, what is the major challenge you face in most of the African countries which you believe should be addressed immediately?
Africa is an exciting continent for solar to thrive and be part of our daily lives; we are blessed with immense amounts of direct sunlight and sun hours. However in saying that, we need the right structures in place in order for solar to grow across Africa. Some of the major challenges we have faced thus far are skilled labor, logistics, procurement, grid instability, and political will.
ACES has tackled these challenges head-on and has found solutions, especially in our projects in East Africa, to make projects work in the region. We have partnered with skilled and experienced local partners, we are finding more innovative ways to procure the equipment for the site, and so on.
South Africa has emerged as a front runner in solar power Africa, what are the key learning and policies that other African nations should adopt to push their solar industry forward?
There are certainly key learnings and policies that other African nations can adopt that will benefit the solar industry, the local economy, and the energy generation of that country. I believe one of the fundamental policies that should be considered is a feed-in tariff with the local energy provider. In the South African context, for example, several municipalities are now incorporating a Small Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) tariff to allow producers to feed excess electricity back into the grid. With the growth of solar in a country, standards need to be adhered to, which can be taken from international and regional standards or best practices; accreditation of installers or developers; an industry association; relevant training, and so on.
What is the scope/future of distributed solar in Africa for the next 5 years?
I believe the future is bright for distributed solar in Africa; the industry will only grow from strength to strength. I foresee growth in the number of megawatts built, price per watt decreasing year on year, also due to the technology becoming more cost-effective. I see more of our youth getting involved in this thriving industry, becoming the young professionals of the future; whether it be as technicians, developers, sales and marketing, project managers, business managers, and so on. Solar developers will have to become experts in micro-grids, generator, and battery integrated systems and systems that will include the Internet of Things (IoT).