A PORT Elizabeth company is making waves in the national renewable energy industry. Pia Solar, a new firm formed by the merger of Ibhayi Contracting, Afri-Coast Consulting Engineers and Platinum Pro electrical engineers, is involved in four projects which form part of the first round of South Africa's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers (REIPP) procurement programme.
Through the programme, the Department of Energy aims to get a total of 3725MW of energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, biogas and landfill gas.
Pia Solar's projects include the recently completed 75MW solar farm near De Aar in the Karoo. The firm is also working on another 45MW solar farm near De Aar, a 75MW solar farm near Postmasburg and a 75MW solar farm near Bloemfontein.
The firm's involvement in another 20MW solar farm near Prieska in the Northern Cape is still to be confirmed.
Pia Solar contracts director Craig Maybery said the De Aar scheme was the firm's first major solar project.
The company joined forces with Kentz Engineers and Constructors in March and the project was completed in August, one month ahead of schedule, he said.
The two firms completed the sub-structure and module installation activities for the main client, Scatec Solar.
"The idea to get involved in the renewable energy field came about two years ago when Scatec first approached us to see if we would be interested in doing the structural design for these solar farms. We saw it as a good opportunity to create our own renewable energy company here in Port Elizabeth."
Maybery said the three firms had joined forces, with Africoast bringing its expertise in design while Platinum specialises in electrical work and Ibhayi in construction.
Since then Pia Solar has also welcomed national firm Raubex Group Ltd on board.
While the Eastern Cape was the preferred site for independent renewable energy producers involved in wind farms, Maybery said, the Northern Cape was fast becoming the home to the country's biggest solar farms.
"The Northern Cape has the highest solar radiation in the world and the highest amount of cloudless days. The cheap land and proximity to the national grid also make it ideal for large-scale solar farms," Maybery said.
The firm, together with Kentz, had just completed the installation of 312504 solar panels over 135ha which forms part of the 75MW Kalkbult Photovoltaic Power Plant near De Aar. The electricity generated was enough to power 30000 households, he said.
The work included drilling through rock, inserting rock anchors which were specially designed by the company and then installing the steel structures for the solar panels.
Kentz senior project manager Pieter Bührmann said: "While the start was difficult, the project was a huge success. We are looking forward to working with them on more projects. It was a great effort."
Maybery said his company aimed to become the leading solar installation firm in South Africa, and move towards specialising in industrial installations as well.
"Many companies are looking to lessen their reliance on Eskom while reducing their carbon footprint. These firms have massive roofs which are ideal for solar panels."