Solar energy is the fastest and easiest way to generate electricity in Africa. However, up until now, use of the sun for this purpose has been all too infrequent. Thanks to technical advances, new state-of-the-art systems and global pressure to improve the CO2 balance, this is set to change. High-quality cables and connection solutions from LAPP help to withstand the extreme conditions. An adventure tour discovering Africa’s future energy supply.

Text: Michael Thiem

Planning for the future: Alan Mulder (right) and Ayanda Dayimani from LAPP find out information on site about when which cables will be required

Each LAPP product travels around 10,000 kilometres from Germany to reach Johannesburg.


Alan Mulder double checks the route on his tablet. “Are we going the right way?” the LAPP sales expert asks his colleague Ayanda Dayimani, who is at the wheel, and zooms in for a closer look at the map. The 41 year old nods. He knows the route. LAPP’s white van leaves the paved road of national route N14 a few kilometres after Vryburg, a small town with around 20,000 inhabitants in the North West province of South Africa, almost 400 kilometres west of Johannesburg. Dayimani drives the vehicle over the gravel and sand track. Time and again he swerves around deep potholes. Mulder’s tablet bounces on his lap. Curious ostriches on the edge of the road disappear in the swirling sand in the rear view mirror. The journey leads through the middle of the Kalahari thornveld, a mixture of vegetation made up of grassland and thicket, typical of northern South Africa. “The road has always existed. If you keep going, you get to a town. That’s what people say at least. I’ve never been there,” grins Dayimani. After almost half an hour, he turns off. They have reached their destination: The construction site for a new solar park. Construction for the future is being carried out in the heart of the African wilderness, as it is in many other places on the continent. The use of renewable energies – especially from the sun – opens up opportunities for 600 million people who have previously had no access to electricity. That is half of the African population. Mulder and Dayimani climb out, take a hearty gulp of water, put on a helmet and safety vest – and are happy. This is because the drums with the solar cables from LAPP have already been delivered.

The sun is burning relentlessly. In summer, temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius are not rare here. Costing around 100 million euros, one of the largest solar units in South Africa will be built on the 150-hectare site by July 2020. At times, up to 400 workers are working on construction at the same time. The posts for fixing the panels are driven 1.60 metres deep into the stony ground using a piledriver. Small detonations were even required for the distribution stations. The preliminary work for construction of the substation, office, warehouse and associated infrastructure is also already underway. It’s an adventure. Workers describe how the roaring of hungry lions in an adjacent breeding station can be heard in the morning. The fence should hold though. It’s a back-breaking job. The sun beats down mercilessly in the afternoon; snakes, scorpions and ticks lurk on the ground. Again and again, small sand cyclones move over the plant and give a taste of the harsh conditions that the solar park will have to withstand on a continual basis after commissioning. The solar panels (each 1.90 metres by 1.10 metres in size) will soon be installed. 262,000 of them equate to an area of almost 550,000 square metres. This is equivalent to 135 football pitches. The plant’s output is 86 megawatts and the electricity is fed into the public network. This is enough to supply 15,000 households in South Africa with electricity.

Powerful: The posts for the solar unit are driven into the hard ground by a piledriver

“Africa is a sleeping giant.”

Chad Andrews, Managing Director of LAPP Southern Africa
Chad Andrews

2.3 million metres of cable
The site of the solar park is on a slight gradient. A sophisticated sensor system will later control motors that can compensate for this – and can do even more. The angle of the solar panels is altered depending on the position of the sun. In the morning, the collectors are aligned at a 30-degree angle to the east. In the evenings, they’re at 30 degrees again, but this time to the west. Re-adjustment is carried out continuously. Always facing the sun. The more technology is used, the more powerful the cables and connection solutions need to be. Around 2.3 million metres of LAPP cables are installed here. A total of 36 different products are used.



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