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Breaking barriers for solar PV solutions

Photos of AltGen team viewing SPS Solar site at Lourensford estate

Breaking barriers for solar PV solutions

The AltGen team visiting Lourensford and viewing a SPS solar rooftop setup

Industry Myth-Busting by Sustainable Power Solutions

At AltGen we believe that there is no knowledge more valuable than what is gained hands-on. Technical know-how from site visits with leading industry players enables us to screen candidates far more effectively for our clients, thus really unpacking the nitty-gritty of who is a great candidate from a technical standpoint. Sustainable Power Solutions (SPS), having completed over 200 solar installations since 2008, has plenty of advice to offer from experience. Our team recently had the privilege of touring Lourensford Wine Estate with a key member of SPS, to view the solar tech they have installed and to see what we could learn from one of the leaders in the industry. 

Why Lourensford?

Lourensford Wine Estate has been around since the 1700s and finds itself in the heart of the Helderberg mountain reserve. Surrounded by rich biodiversity, it is considered one of the most beautiful estates in South Africa. A key strategy in their business model is environmental sustainability, ensuring the care and vitality of plant and animal life on the estate, including the Cape Leopard. It made perfect sense to reduce their carbon footprint by utilizing small-scale renewable energy systems to power wine-producing activities.

Two Grid-Tied rooftop solar installations have been placed on Lourensford’s wine cellar and packhouse where they generate enough energy to power a large portion of the winemaking and storage operations. Solar electricity solutions are becoming increasingly attractive to businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa, a pretty sunny place, where SPS operates. Besides the fact that the solar resource needed for solar power generation is very abundant in these regions, another pull toward this technology is the renewable energy requirements imposed by European countries on companies looking to trade within the EU. This means that companies wanting to break into that market without sky-high costs and tariffs being imposed would need to be at least partly powered by renewable sources. The Lourensford Estate took this a step further when they partnered with SPS, supplying a significant portion of the wine cellars’ power through its rooftop solar panels

The Lourensford Estate was an ideal location for SPS. A rooftop solar installation is well-suited to the energy requirements at Lourensford for the same reasons that shopping centres were the first sector to install solar PV rooftop panels.  The availability of large, sprawling roof space, the profile of energy consumption of seven days a week, 365 days a year, air conditioning, refrigeration, and lighting driving consumption and the fact that the majority of energy is used during daytime hours. This means that not only can solar be installed productively, but the power produced will be consumed effectively, saving the farm wasted space, energy, and costs. SPS has successfully installed a 500kWp Solar PV system on the roof of the wine cellar, helping reduce electricity costs as well as their carbon footprint.

The Myth of Angles and Directions Busted

Our team ventured up onto the roof of the wine cellar to get a closer look at the approach SPS is employing at Lourensford. The Estate has a few different solar systems installed, but the one you see on the roof of the cellar is unique, innovative and groundbreaking.  The Lourensford wine cellar is located in a lush, mountainous area in the Cape Winelands and has what most in the industry would consider a large number of disadvantages.   The facility has low-sloped roofs, mountains and trees surrounding the installation area creating many shading challenges. This didn’t deter the SPS team from implementing a very effective solution. 

A common misconception is that solar panels must be placed facing perfectly North at a 20-degree angle to maximise efficiency and anything else is unacceptable. This set-up is achievable when it comes to ground-mounted solar solutions, but could limit opportunities in the rooftop solar market. SPS installed the panels on Lourensford’s roof at angles ranging from 3 degrees to 7 degrees and orientated from North and even South-East. The lower generation from panels that are not optimally placed is not as pronounced as previously thought and on a low-angle roof, it could be as low as 5%.  This showcases the space for creativity and innovation in the rooftop solar industry, and suddenly makes a variety of structures more feasible for this technology.

Efficient or effective

Another good reason for being dynamic with panel angles and orientations when it comes to rooftop solar is the optimisation of the energy output on complicated structures. By placing panels parallel to the existing roof sheeting rather than using angled structures (to improve the angle to the mythical 20 degrees) allows for more panels to fit into the same roof area. This leads to a greater energy output from the available area and highlights the benefit of quality engineering and design.  It all comes down to buyer preference: as many watts as possible from an optimally angled panel, or the maximum output from the area as a whole.

We were surprised to hear that a single panel in the shade in a grid-tied system does more than just produce less energy.  Where one portion of a panel is shaded, all the other panels connected in that string will not be able to produce energy efficiently. This could affect more than 20 panels and reduce the available energy substantially.  Due to quality engineering and design, the Lourensford system has proven to be so lucrative that any spaces on the roof that were left empty will soon be filled with more panels.

Lourensford’s PV panels channel the energy from the sun to a large number of inverters, with each section of panels angled at the same orientation and angle being directed to the most appropriate inverter. Through this layout, the panels on different portions of the roof can deliver energy at different levels of efficiency at different times of the day.  Another learning on the day is that modules are slightly elevated off the roof, creating a draft underneath. This is done to avoid overheating as a solar PV panel produces electricity from light, not heat. They would produce the best results on a cold summer’s day! This goes to show the importance of constantly learning, experimenting, and even taking risks when it comes to understanding and testing solar technology.  

SPS offers fully funded Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) and owns, monitors, and maintains the systems themselves. This motivates them to invest in good quality, long-lasting equipment, and to ensure that the whole system remains in good condition through a rigorous maintenance program.  Our team is beyond appreciative that we were able to learn more about the various technologies we get to work with through a quality market player like SPS. Through this site visit, our consultants have gained an insight into how important the movers and shakers designing these systems are to optimising costs and operations, and how valuable candidates with ideas and knowledge like this can be to companies growing and disrupting the renewable energy industry.

Where to Next?

Lourensford is one of SPS’s successful forays into supplying an agricultural consumer with a bespoke and viable renewable energy solution. Their myriad of previous projects includes work in the commercial, industrial and tourism industries, with grid-tied, off-grid, battery supported solutions and IPP. Sustainable Power Solutions is a pan-African solutions provider with installations across Southern Africa including completed projects in Kenya, Seychelles, Namibia and many other countries making it a force to be reckoned with. Besides gaining entry to European markets companies with innovative renewable technology integrated into their operations, this case study showcases how feasible and lucrative the renewable energy industry and clean tech can be. AltGen has been thrilled by what we have learnt from them about industry myths and our local market! 

The AltGen team visiting Lourensford and viewing a SPS solar rooftop setup

Sean Gibson

Managing Director

“AltGen is all about effecting change, through people. With integrity, and passion”. 

Managing Director and Founder of the AltGen’ Group. Sean has played a pivotal role in steering and leading the vision and mission of AltGen, making AltGen the only highly specialist renewable energy recruitment firm operating within the renewable energy and sustainability space in Africa. Sean oversees the success of the entire group of AltGen companies.

Sean holds a Master of Philosophy in Sustainable Development from Stellenbosch University as well as an Honours degree from Rhodes University

Robert Veith

Sales Director

“Without quality and intelligent effort, there is no success and no reward.”

Joining AltGen in 2014, Robert started as a Recruitment Consultant and has since become our Recruitment Director overseeing the Recruitment and Executive Search division. Robert has extensive experience in securing talent for rare skills in the energy engineering market, including skills to the likes of Power System Engineers, SCADA Engineers, Project Developers and Electrical Engineering skills specific to design.

Through Robert’s leadership, each recruitment team is enabled to focus on their specific area of expertise, ensuring all client hiring needs are met. Through Robert’s years of dedication to sourcing and securing top talent in the industry, he has a wealth of insight into the skills market and provides our clients with a competitive advantage in a scarce skills environment enabling them to effectively execute on some of the most challenging renewable energy projects across Africa. Robert is also responsible for growth of the engineering recruitment team.

Robert holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing Management from UNISA as well as a National Diploma in Electrical Engineering from CPUT.

Lindy Taylor

Business Development & Innovation Director

“The success of an organisation is defined by its people.”

As the Innovation & Business Development Manager, Lindy is responsible for the marketing and business development activities of AltGen. Through her big picture vision, Lindy has enabled AltGen to remain responsive in the cleantech space. She is responsible for engagements with new clients.
Lindy initially joined AltGen in 2015 and has grown into being an integral member of the senior management team. She ensures a collaborative approach with clients catering to their custom needs. Her focus is on attaining new clients, as well as handling contractual relationships with new and existing stakeholders.
Lindy holds a Bachelor’ Degree in Social Sciences from Rhodes University.

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Chris Roetz

Workforce Management Services: General Manager

“My goal is to deliver exceptional operational performance within AltGen – Northern Cape building on people, energy and sustainability”

Chris Roetz oversees AltGen’s Workforce Management division in the Northern Cape. He is responsible for the successful execution of HR advisory and management services for clients’ utility-scale projects in the region. Currently, Roetz mobilises an outsourced staff complement of over 200 employees. He also steers AltGen’s Solar Works programme in conjunction with his Pofadder based team.

Chris has 20 years of professional experience in an HR and outsourced staffing capacity within the energy environment and holds a National Diploma in Human Resource Management from UNISA.

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Muslim Janoowala

Consulting Services: Senior Consultant & Business Development Lead

“My focus is to be able to do impactful work, being in the front lines of the development sector finding solutions to safe and reliable drinking water, power and sanitation”

Muslim Janoowala drives AltGen’s consulting services arm. Muslim has 10+ years of experience in the renewable energy, water and general engineering space in Eastern Africa and has played an instrumental role in the success of AltGen consulting engagement on the AFD Green Mini-grid Programme in Kenya. His expertise caters to M&E activities, project management, impact analysis and assessments of funded water and renewable energy programmes that “enlighten” and uplift communities in rural Africa.

Muslim holds an MSc in Construction Management from Cass Business School and a Bachelor of Engineering in Architectural Environment Engineering from the University of Nottingham.

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Wiehahn de Jager

Senior Consultant & Team Lead

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Wiehahn de Jager has specialist recruitment expertise in the finance sector and has worked on various mandates for large international and national clients on both a retained and contingency basis. Wiehahn has gained an in-depth understanding of the professional skills operating within the capital markets, fin-tech, and green finance space, with a keen focus on talented professionals within the African context. He has a strong track record successfully working on a range of skill levels, from Directors to Analysts, with a special focus on professionals from mid-level up to Corporate Executives.

Wiehahn holds a Bachelor in Law from the University of Stellenbosch.

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Robert Slater

Senior Consultant & Team Lead

“I love to serve people and be the steppingstone between them and their dream job.”

Robert Slater is an expert in the talent acquisition of carbon management, environmental and social governance-related professionals across Africa. Robert has successfully closed mandates for clients who are focused on sourcing skills with experience in climate change, clean cooking, sustainability, and agricultural environments.

Slater cares deeply for people and the planet, he has a Life Coach Training certification from New Insights and volunteers at ON A MISSION, an NPO which enables businesses and individuals to invest in carbon offset projects. He holds an Honours Degree in Environmental Management from UNISA.

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Natascha Marais


“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. I look for people who want to change the world and introduce them to like-minded companies.”

Natascha Marais is highly skilled when it comes to sourcing those “unicorns” for our clients in the OEM, AI and technology, economic development, and legal spaces.

Natascha has proven experience in identifying and onboarding professionals to the likes of business developers, sales, and account managers as well as technical sales or software developer skills.

Marais holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Law from Pearson Institute.


If you are serious about moving to the UK and are a PV Design Engineer or have engineering experience in offshore wind, in grid & transmission/network planning, or sub-station design and construction then let us know!
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