Good news from South Africa: SMA’s inverter production in Cape Town (South Africa) has started and the first locally manufactured Sunny Central inverters have been tested and are ready to be shipped. Thorsten Ronge, General Manager of SMA Sub-Sahara Production Pty Ltd, and his team have worked hard over the last months to keep their promise of starting production before Round 4 bid-submission in the South African REIPPP programme.
Thorsten, why is it so important for solar companies to have their own local production facilities in South Africa?
South Africa is an important emerging solar market with abundant irradiation and an ever-growing energy demand currently relying heavily on coal. In order to secure an economic and sustainable energy supply for all South African people, the government has initiated the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPP). The programme contributes towards the country’s current target of adding around 3,7 GW of renewable energy as well as socio-economic and environmentally sustainable growth. To ensure the start and stimulation of this renewable industry in South Africa, utility scale PV projects need to show a growing portion of local content. And project developers as well as EPCs require their vendors to supply products that have been manufactured partially or in whole in South Africa. With our solution comprised of Sunny Central inverter, Transformer Compact Station and Sunny String Monitor we can now add the desired value in terms of local content.
How was the project of SMA’s own local production facility realized?
The project was initialized by the beginning of 2013 and first discussions with local sales led to the formation of a project team last summer. The Kassel-based project team acting across divisions and functions and including the sales and service team in South Africa worked hard to meet the stringent timeline. We wanted to start production in South Africa before SMA’s customers place their bids for PV projects in Round 4 of the REIPP program – and succeeded. Many action items had to be dealt with in parallel at times and we had to be convincing in a few ways to make this thing fly. For example, a team of employees had to be hired before the factory existed because they were sent to Germany for extensive assembly and testing training. Collaboration between Germany and South African employees has been excellent during the last months, but like in almost every project, there are some obstacles to overcome. Having produced the first inverter at the end of July right on time, the project team can be proud of its achievements and with i.e. customer audits around the corner SMA Sub-Sahara Production has new milestones set aside already.
Needless to say much hard work was involved for the team and looking back some episodes that led to severe headaches cause laughter now. Just to name one: We were waiting for two containers of production equipment to be released by customs for four weeks for example, simply because their system did not know a blue, flexible plastic shoe cover to be put over shoes and feet when entering the test area of the production floor. It took countless phone calls, emails and meetings between numerous parties, an embargo of the containers and lots of back and forth with packing lists in South African bureaucracy until we managed to get the containers to the SMA premises in Cape Town and opened them under the watchful eyes of a customs official. He was cranking with laughter when he finally found the desired object worth a few cents and asked, whether he could take one back to the office. We gave him two, one for each shoe.
You transferred from Germany to South Africa with your whole family to supervise the project. How has your life changed by this?
I had been to South Africa before on vacation a few times and my parents used to live there for three years in the late Sixties. One can say that I knew what awaited me and my family. Nevertheless it was quite a move for my wife, a pediatrician with a job in Berlin herself, and our two young sons. But we felt it was the right time for such an adventure and so far can state that we enjoy the time in South Africa. People are always friendly and helpful, Cape Town is rather European anyways and presents a great environment to enjoy with the family on weekends. As from a professional perspective: Things are dealt with in a quite different way in Africa and the notion “This is Africa” can be challenging for a fast-paced, rather impatient mindset like our German. So it is a daily learning experience for me to accept that there are some things that you cannot and will not change, even if you try every trick from the book. But in the end there always is an outcome and this is what counts.
Find out more about SMA South Africa in our press release!
I'm a Press Manager at SMA.
Just about everything that has to do with SMA.
What even my colleagues don't know about me:
As a teenager I competed in luge at the "Youth Trains for the Olympics".