Parking to the Rescue in South Africa’s Clean Energy Generation Drive


Parking to the Rescue in South Africa’s Clean Energy Generation Drive


Parking could be at the center of South Africa’s drive to increase renewable energy generation and scale up electric vehicle ownership as part of the national goal of achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. 


South Africa has seen for the last seven years a growing trend of installation of solar carports that incorporates solar panels for clean and renewable power generation while providing shade and protection, as well as charging stations for EV vehicles parked underneath.


Currently, South Africa relies on coal to produce up to 87 percent of its electricity generation.


The country has been implementing the renewable energy independent power producer procurement program (REIPPP) that encourages a competitive tender process to facilitate private sector investment in green energy generation.


But the solar carport market trend is a separate initiative through which South Africa’s property owners and vehicle manufacturers are transforming their parking spaces into clean energy generation hubs.  


The solar carports are contributing toward reducing electricity costs for property owners and manufacturing plants because they generate their own clean energy,and in the case of automobile manufacturers, are a commercially viable garage for new vehicles awaiting sale or shipment.


For instance, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa Ltd, an automobile and commercial vehicle manufacturer based in Pretoria, is now sourcing up to 13.5 percent of its electricity need from the sun after installing solar PV carports for 3,610 vehicles at its Silverton vehicle assembling plant. This solar carport is slightly bigger than the 12.37MW one that broke ground recently at California theme park Six Flags Magic Mountain by U.S. developer DSD Renewables and commercial solar EPC company Solar Optimum.


The Ford Company automobile manufacturing plant, which produces the Ranger pickup for domestic sales and exports to more than 100 global markets, has installed an array of at least 30,336 solar panels for its solar carport that generates an estimated 13.5MW of emissions-free electricity to power the company’s operations.


“This makes it one of the largest solar carports in the world, and a truly ground-breaking renewable energy project for the domestic automotive industry,” the company said at the launch of the solar carport last year.


Its U.S. Michigan-based parent company, Ford Motor Company, has a goal of achieving 100 percent use of carbon-free electricity in all its global manufacturing operations by 2035, as well as hitting carbon neutrality status by 2050.


“We are delighted to officially flip the switch and begin receiving 35 percent of our electricity from the solar carports with the completion of the first phase of our Project Blue Oval renewable energy program,” said Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford South Africa. 


The massive solar powered carport used an estimated 59 tons of steel and 315 tons of aluminum for the solar carports that were manufactured in South Africa.


Ford said more than 5,000 meters “of medium and low-voltage cabling was used to connect the solar PV panels to 120 three-phase 100kW inverters and eight transformers, before being fed into the Silverton plant.” 


The electricity generated from the solar carports by Ford is adequate to power almost 22,000 light bulbs, or 12,171 average households, for an entire year, according to a brief by Ford.


More Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have previously launched similar integrated parking facilities to ensure adequate clean electricity for own use, and provide quality parking bays as well as EV charging stations.


BMW South Africa Ltd, part of the BMW group, had previously unveiled its BMW i solar carport in the South African market.


The solar powered carport, which is manufactured and installed for BMW by SUNWORX, a South Africa-based designer and installer of PV solar systems, is made of quality bamboo and stainless-steel housing.


The carport comes with a home and public charging solution BMW i Wallbox, a wall-mounted charging station for home use.


BMW says the BMW i Wallbox “increases charging capacity, reducing charging time and making it the ideal design accessory for BMW i vehicles.” The BMW solar carport supplies an average of 3.6kW of solar power straight to the BMW i Wallbox.


The concept, BMW said previously, is demonstration of a commitment by the automobile company to “shaping the future of individual mobility – not only with ground-breaking products and services, but also with the global as well as local involvement in the expansion of home and publicly accessible charging infrastructure for electrically powered vehicles.”


BMW Group South Africa former chief executive officer (CEO) Tim Abbott stated, “in order for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to be successful, we need to firstly increase consumer confidence in the viability of electric vehicles and secondly make public charging easily accessible for customers who purchase these cars.”


Elsewhere, property owners in South Africa are also transforming their premises into clean electricity generation hubs to power their operations with the installation of solar carports.


For instance, financial services provider and South Africa’s oldest life insurer, Old Mutual, is among corporates in South Africa to have installed carports on its premises with the unveiling of the company’s Mutualpark offices. The insurer, with an estimated 7,000 employees, has installed 3,600 solar panels spread over 14,500m square meters covering 565 carports that generate slightly more than 1MW and providing up to 8 percent of the office building’s electricity consumption.


 “Given rising electricity tariffs and the current constraints on South Africa’s electricity supply, energy efficiency is critical to economic growth and stability. Responsible environmental management is one of the five pillars that define our responsible business approach,” said Rose Keanly, formerly chief operating officer at Old Mutual.


Although South Africa’s EV market does not compare favorably with those in developed markets such as North America and Europe, there is no doubt the increasing ownership of electric vehicles, and the government-driven campaign to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, will create demand for solar carports, especially those that have integrated EV charging infrastructure. 


Shem Oirere is Parking Today’s on the ground reporter in Africa. He can be reached at

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