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Solar energy has a bright future

Written by Sihle Manda

SA Investment Conference

Southern Africa has abundant sunshine that can be used to provide electricity. Solar power is especially suitable for communities in rural areas. A local company is proving how it can help disadvantaged communities.

Power outages in South Africa have had a wide-ranging impact on the country’s fragile economic growth prospects.

In times of unreliable power supply, consumers are often left to scour for alternatives. These are generally unaffordable.

Lamo Solar, black-owned solar energy company based in Fourways Gauteng, received a stamp of approval from President Cyril Ramaphosa who recently lauded the six-year-old company’s innovative business.

Speaking on the sidelines of the second South Africa Investment Conference held in Johannesburg recently, the company’s Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Tshibvumo Sikhwivhilu (30), outlined what the company aims to achieve.

Energy for rural communities

Lamo Solar provides robust, cost-effective solar photo-voltaic (PV) energy solutions that provide electricity to beneficiaries when Eskom cannot meet demand.Tshibvumo Sikhwivhilu

 “Lamo Solar was founded with the sole intention of increasing access to electricity to predominantly rural parts of not only South Africa but also Sub-Saharan Africa,” explained Sikhwivhilu.

 The business was founded in 2013 as a spin-off from a final year project with friend and business partner, Elmond Khoza. The two electrical engineering students today employ 12 people – six of them women.

 “What gives us a good competitive advantage over other competitors in other parts of the world in the sector is that South Africa, and Africa as a continent, has some of the best sun radiation compared to other parts of the world,” he said.

“It gives us a favourable advantage using the very same technology that exists in Europe or Asia, but being applied in conditions that are better suited than they were designed or manufactured. That is where we source our competitiveness from. We are operating in a very conducive environment. Our resource is the sun, which is abundantly available on the Africa continent.”

Affordable access

With South Africa’s rural populace largely poor, affordability has been a point of distress for Lamo Solar, but it has a solution. It just needs financial backing, said Sikhwivhilu.

 “Solar technology, as an outright purchase, is quite expensive. Very few people who are driving cars today would be able to drive them if they had to buy them outright. We can drive cars because there very unique tailored payment models which are allowing you and me to afford to buy our cars over a period of time,” he said.

 A similar model, he said, needs to be adopted in the sector.

“The reason we are here at the investment conference is to be able to raise enough capital so we can sell our systems over time and, in some instances, sell the benefit of our system and not necessarily the technology. We are the technology experts and we are comfortable with how it works, but not everyone wants to know how a solar (system) works.”

 The company also provides training in the renewable energy sector, specifically in the design, installation, maintenance and operation of solar solutions.

German development agency lends assistance

“The early days were much more challenging than today. But things have begun to pick up, owing to the bold policy framework and shifts pronounced by government,” he said.

 This year alone, the company completed a solar-PV mini-grid that electrified 70 households in Upper Blinkwater in the Eastern Cape.

 This project was implemented with the support of the Eastern Cape Provincial Government and the German Development Agency, GIZ. The project saw the homes, 90 percent of which rely on social grants, receive electricity at cheaper rates.

To recover the cost, Lamo Solar has partnered with the Raymond Mhlaba Municipality, which sells prepaid solar electricity vouchers to households connected to the grid.

 According to its website, the company has installed more than 10 000 solar modules.

South Africa Investment Conference

Addressing delegates at the conference, President Ramaphosa emphasised the importance of government and public sector support for SMMEs. 

“Many, if not most, small and medium businesses already make use of technology products in their businesses, and are actually making tech their businesses. Every day, our SMMEs are demonstrating out-of-the-box thinking in business skills,” he said.

This, he said, must be matched by similar out-of-the-box thinking in SMME funding at a time when we have to scale up support, but with limited and even fewer resources. SAnews.gov.za