Africa|Aluminium|Defence|Energy|Manufacturing|Solar|Sustainable|Technology|Training|Manufacturing |Products
Africa|Aluminium|Defence|Energy|Manufacturing|Solar|Sustainable|Technology|Training|Manufacturing |Products

Ex-SANDF captain becomes solar panel plant manager

The above image depicts project manager and ex-SANDF captain Rene Salmon

RENE SALMON Today there are six women that make up the nucleus of the Cape Town plant’s solar department, and they provide most of the training to new workers

Photo by Ener-G-Africa

25th August 2023


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Sustainable energy products developer Ener-G-Africa’s (EGA’s) latest all-women-led and -staffed solar manufacturing facility is a first-of-its-kind, as it is the only small solar panel plant to be certified by accredited inspection authority Tüv Rheinland South Africa.

The 800 m² plant manufactures 20 W panels that sell for around R300 each in South Africa, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and several other African countries. The plant is run by ex-South African National Defence Force (SANDF) captain, now plant manager, Rene Salmon.

EGA commissioned the 15 MW/y solar panel assembly plant, at the Cape Town premises in 2022. It is only the second such facility in sub-Saharan Africa. Having officially opened in early 2023, the plant provides solar panels for use with advanced biomass cooking stoves as well as general use.

The all-women plant is the brainchild of EGA CEO André Moolman, who happened to be Salmon’s platoon commander during her basic training in the SANDF. According to Salmon, her training group comprised 15 women out of the 40 SANDF hopefuls.

Salmon went on to reach the rank of captain during her time at SANDF, before being contacted almost two decades later by Moolman to run the all-woman solar plant.

“I thought he was joking,” Salmon explains, “I told him that I’d never worked with electronics, and I’d never worked in a factory.”

Moolman convinced Salmon, along with five other women from her platoon, to come on board. Salmon admits that she was scared but that her experience as captain made her a “stronger and better person” and taught her that “you can’t say that you can’t, unless you try”, so she tried.

Today there are six women that make up the nucleus of the Cape Town plant’s solar department, and they provide most of the training to new workers. EGA’s engineers train the core group of women, who serve as supervisors, machine operators, quality checkers, and more.

Once they have a handle on new skills, they, in turn, train other women. These women are either recruited internally or as casuals through the submission of curricula vitae.

“We look for women willing to learn; the work is physical, and you need attention to detail,” adds Salmon.

EGA aims to improve the lives of women in Africa, not only through inclusive skills development at the solar plant in Cape Town, but also through the manufacture of energy efficient biomass cooking stoves, having distributed four-million across Africa.

Salmon says the Cape Town plant has 11 permanent employees, with two sets of 12 casuals that rotate shifts. Training for new workers is provided for a full day during the recruiting process, where successful candidates join as casual workers and are under constant supervision.

In the majority of cases, the casuals can work unsupervised after two weeks, although new skills training and refresher training is ongoing.

“There is always room for improvement, and the energy sector is such a dynamic field,” notes Salmon.

Promoting Gender Equality

Salmon says that looking back, her team can say that they have grown and learned so much, especially when comparing their first 20 W panel to what they produce now.

“I can tell you a thousand things that were wrong with that first panel,” she laughs. “It took the six of us three hours to build it because we did it by hand; it was the ugliest module you’ve ever seen: the spacing was too wide in parts, it had fingerprints and tracks on it, but it yielded electricity.”

Salmon says that today, it takes three minutes for one person to make a 20 W panel, from start to finish, using a machine.

She elaborates that she believes women can do anything and she always tries to promote “the gender-equality gospel” to her team. She encourages them to always try to do something new and learn from it; for her, that is true empowerment.

She further explains that, in her work at EGA, she draws on her experience in the defence force, and while solar panel technology was a completely new field, she learned and is still learning.

“We have battle scars of soldering irons and cuts from the corners of sharp aluminium frames, but we’ve all learnt so much from this experience,” Salmon concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor




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