Seraphim plans 1.5 GW solar module, 300 MW cell fab in Africa

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Together with ILB Helios Southern Africa and the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, Jiangsu Seraphim Solar System Co. Ltd has opened a 300 MW solar PV module manufacturing facility in East London IDZ, on South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

According to a statement released, the plant is currently in trial production, with a full ramp up planned for September. The necessary equipment was provided by SC Solar of Suzhou, China.

A spokesperson for Seraphim tells pv magazine that standard framed, dual-glass and bifacial modules will be manufactured there, both with mono- and poly-crystalline. They add that while Seraphim brought the latest production technology and management expertise to the partnership, ILB Helios provided local operation experience and sales networks, and IDC acted as financial partner.

Of the initial $14 million invested, the spokesperson says Seraphim acted as the investor, with IDC providing a combination of plant and equipment loans, and a working capital facility.

To date, the project has seen 100 direct jobs created. However, this is set to grow when the plant expands. Indeed, the plan is to increase the 300 MW module production to 1.5 GW over the next three years, while 300 MW of cell capacity will also be added.

The African market currently represents around 5% of Seraphim’s sales, although with the new plant, this is forecast to increase, says the spokesperson. They add that the SADC region (South African Development Community) will be a primary focus.

“For now the most important market is the Commercial & Industrial segment in South Africa and neighboring countries,” they say, adding, “… we also support the localization requirements for utility-scale projects in South Africa and will further supply to projects in East Africa (especially Kenya) and West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon…).”

Explaining why the location was chosen, the spokesperson says, “South Africa is undoubtedly one of the most advanced African countries with mature infrastructure, qualified labour, etc. It is also well connected by sea to main overseas markets, policy for protection of local content and gateway into the African market and other continents.”

By the end of 2017, Seraphim had a global PV manufacturing capacity of 3 GW, with facilities in Changzhou, Shuyang and Zhulu in China, and Fukushima in Japan.

Commenting on how the Chinese manufacturer has been affected by the domestic PV policy changes announced in May, the spokesperson concludes, “Module price went down dramatically and peer competitors began to fight more fiercely at oversea markets.

“Luckily we have reliable suppliers and loyal clients and things are getting better as we continuously working on innovations to provide better LCOE, and strategic global deployment to avoid policy uncertainties and trade disputes like anti-dumping, etc.”

Reignited

South Africa’s solar industry – on pause for the past three years – can once again get going, after the seemingly never ending saga of the unsigned power purchase agreements (PPAs) ended in April.

Overall, the PPAs represent 2.3 GW of generation capacity, which is expected to be added to the grid over the next five years, in addition to 58,000 new jobs, and an investment of R56 billion (around US$4.7 billion), said South African Energy Minister, Jeff Radebe at the time.

Most recently, in June, Radebe announced on Twitter that the country may launch a new renewable energy procurement round, totaling 1.8 GW this year. Precise details were thin on the ground, however.

According to the latest statistics, published by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s PV capacity reached 1,474 MW at the end of December 2016. Another 813 MW – from the newly-signed outstanding PPAs – is expected to come online in the coming months.