Shining on the kids

Shining on the kids

South Africa is a growing market with great export opportunities as one North East company has discovered. Peter Jackson reports.

An innovative lighting project has transformed Sizanani settlement in South Africa, cutting electricity consumption by 70% and improving children’s education chances.

The solar street light has also ended the local residents’ fear of walking outside at night as the light’s brilliance covers the area almost half the size of a football pitch.

The solar street lighting technology was donated in February by Newcastle based Videre Global in partnership with a South African company. “Our life has totally changed,” said one of the project beneficiaries, Ms Anna Mahlangu. “The solar lights are keeping us out of the dark and our children are enjoying longer hours of reading.”

Videre Global was only formed earlier this year but is already winning contracts to supply its solar PV lighting throughout South Africa. Managing director Craig Morgan explains: “There’s a massive problem with energy in South Africa, so we looked to create our own solar street lights. We decided to look for products already out there and innovate those products.

“Now we are supplying rural, off-grid, rural solar energy lights and solar home packs to rural locations.’’

In December 2014 they got an opportunity in South Africa from the Agricultural Development Department to deliver an energy project for Sizanani settlement. They went on a North East Chamber of Commerce trade mission to the country, launched the business in South Africa in March and delivered that project.

Morgan adds: “Since then we’ve agreed a distributorship and we’ve set up Videre Solar Africa and we are exporting our product to them and they are selling into South Africa and through into Botswana. In Botswana we are looking at five or six large projects for government and for private industry on solar farms and energy storage.’’

Videre is also bidding for an EU funded electrification contract project to supply energy to schools in Botswana, which is worth 6m euros.  “We are looking at doing about US$180,000 every two months to South Africa in container values of renewable products,’’ says Morgan.

There are currently just the four directors in the company but it is planned that when Videre reaches an annual turnover of US$1m, which it hopes to achieve next year, it will look for premises and take on employees.

“We are working with a consortium looking to do a feasibility study for solar PV in the Democratic Republic of Congo and have put a tender together which will be submitted shortly. We are looking at a few projects in Mauritius and we are looking at a potential market in Zambia and Namibia.’’

Morgan urges other businesses to look at the South African market but to do their homework first. He says: “Doing a market visit is crucial and going on a UKTI or Chamber of Commerce trade mission to the country and meeting people through their networks is crucial to get in. You have to create good partnerships in Africa because it’s all about who you know and if you find the right partner you’ll make progress.

“You have to have a presence on the ground. It’s not like Europe where you can go and have a couple of quick visits and do business. Things do not happen if you are not on the ground and are constantly in contact.’’

There are also important cultural differences to be aware of. He explains: “There’s a thing called Africa time that Europeans tend to find very frustrating. You go out there with all your meetings planned and think you have a great itinerary but when you get there everything will change, meetings will get cancelled and moved. You have to have patience.

It’s a time-consuming and complex market but it’s a great market and there are huge opportunities in Africa in all sectors. It’s definitely worth looking at.