Energy major gears up to roll out solar across retail sites as it marks South African centenary

28th March 2024 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Energy major gears up to roll out solar across retail sites as it marks South African centenary

Four sites have been selected for a solar PV pilot project, after which solar PV will be rolled out to all bpSA-owned sites

Energy group bp Southern Africa (bpSA) has set the expansion of its service station network in South Africa as a key priority as it moves to mark its centenary in a country where it first began operating on May 9, 1924.

Communications and external affairs head Hamlet Morule tells Engineering News that bpSA intends rolling out 15 new sites during 2024, with ten sites currently in development, followed by a further 11 in 2025.

Between R20-million and R25-million will be invested to build the new service stations, with the final price-tag dependent on the size of the site and its location, with far-flung sites generally costing more owing to the absence of readily available municipal services and access roads.

The company already has more than 500 stations nationally and is now pursuing sites primarily on South Africa’s major highways, as well as in high-growth urban nodes.

Some of the sites will be developed by bpSA itself, while others will be dealer owned in line with its hybrid ownership model in South Africa.

Morule says that, in parallel, the group will be piloting the roll-out of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, to enable stations to begin transitioning away from their current reliance on diesel generators for backup power during loadshedding and other outages.

Four sites have been selected for a solar PV pilot, which will kick off soon, including sites in Cape Town and Durban, as well as two in Johannesburg.

“Once the pilot is successfully completed, we will roll out to all bpSA-owned sites,” Morule says, indicating that the deployment is also in line with the multinational group’s commitment to transitioning towards net-zero by 2050.

Power purchase agreements will be signed with solar service providers, which will install, operate, and maintain grid-tied hybrid facilities over agreed time horizons.

In the rest of the world the multinational is investing heavily in the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure at its retail sites, but Morule says that is not an immediate priority in South Africa, where EV penetration remains low.

All the new sites will include convenience stores that will house bpSA’s own Wild Bean Café brand, as well as its current partner brands of Pick n Pay, Nedbank Greenback, SA Taxi, Discovery Insure and Vodacom.

Morule says the group will also use its centenary to reinforce its commitment to Southern Africa, which some questioned when the mothballed Sapref refinery, which bpSA owns jointly with Shell, was put up for sale a few years ago.

The sale process to the State-owned Central Energy Fund was disrupted by the April 2022 floods in KwaZulu-Natal, which caused major damage at the refinery, but a future disposal has not been discounted.

The group’s role in the region was also questioned after bpSA announced in 2023 that it had decided to exit all its aviation-fuel activities in South Africa, after the Airports Company South Africa entered into contracts with alternative domestic suppliers.

Besides its retail business, bpSA remains a shareholder in black-empowered Masana Petroleum Solutions, which is focused on supplying fuels to large South African businesses and it also owns Castrol, which supplies lubricants across the region.

The company employs 556 people, 56% of whom are women.

“We’ve had a long history in South Africa and have a long-term vision to grow our retail business and to continue supplying fuels and lubricants, while transitioning from being an oil group to playing a role in the energy transition,” Morule says.