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Rheinmetall Denel Munition is building a solar energy plant at its Somerset West facility

27th April 2023

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The official groundbreaking ceremony for a 5.06 MWp capacity solar energy plant at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) plant at Somerset West, in metropolitan Cape Town, was held late Wednesday afternoon. (Because of circumstances, the civils works on the site had had to be started before the official groundbreaking took place.)  

“Today marks a critical milestone in our energy transition journey in South Africa,” highlighted RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen in his address. The solar plant is being built to immunise the Somerset West facility from the effects of the scheduled rotating power cuts imposed on the country by the national electricity utility Eskom, because of its lack of operational generating capacity. Loadshedding has had “quite a significant impact on us, as an industry,” he noted, adding that it had cost RDM “a lot of money” last year.

The new solar plant will be a complete power system, not just solar arrays, and thus able to provide power continually. It will be able to generate all the power that the Somerset West facility requires. Once operational, the facility will not need any power from Eskom. Indeed, RDM hopes to be able to “export” surplus power back to the national grid, with which it remains attached. “We want to be an energy partner,” he said.  

The solar plant is being built on an area of 3.62 ha, of which 2.34 ha will actually be covered by the solar panels, which will number 9 204. They will have a performance ratio of 81.6% and will annually produce 8 571 465.89 kWh.

The construction of this solar plant required an investment in South Africa by the Germany-based parent Rheinmetall group of R72-million. But it is only the first step. RDM and its parent group have committed R251-million for renewable energy investments in South Africa. Solar power plants are going to be built at all of RDM’s facilities.

Further, this programme is also a key element in RDM’s transition to net-zero carbon emissions operations. The solar plant at Somerset West will cut the local company’s carbon emissions by 5 000 t/y. Another step, stressed by Helmsen, is that RDM is replacing its entire fleet of internal combustion engine vehicles with electric vehicles and hybrid-power vehicles. Electric shuttles and e-scooters will be used to allow staff to move around the site.

And RDM is also investing in hydrogen. It is seeking to use solar power to produce green hydrogen. It has developed and is testing a containerised mobile green hydrogen production system.

RDM is 51%-owned by Germany’s Rheinmetall group and 49% by South African State-owned defence industrial group Denel.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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