Posted in: Careers

SOLA launches its first engineering bursary to encourage solar PV expertise amongst electrical engineers

SOLA has launched its first engineering bursary, giving the opportunity for a final year electrical engineering student to have their tuition paid for and a job opportunity as a graduate engineer in the solar PV field. The move comes as part of SOLA’s broader shared value strategy, that aims to bolster STEM education and give opportunities for young engineers seeking careers in renewable energy to flourish.

“It is a great step forward for us, and one we are very excited about,” said Dom Wills, CEO of SOLA Group. “We know that there are incredibly smart students out there who have faced giant odds to get to where they are. We want to support them on this journey, because that will ultimately make our organisation stronger in the future,” he added.

The bursary is eligible to previously disadvantaged students who plan to enter into their final year of BSc or BEng electrical engineering at a Cape Town based institution in 2022. The bursary will include R75 000 tuition, paid vacation work, and a graduate engineering position after the studies have been completed. 

“We particularly encourage women to apply for the bursary, who have historically been underrepresented in our industry,” adds Wills. “We hope that this bursary can help to demonstrate the viability of a career in renewable energy and encourage more electrical engineers to take this direction.”

SOLA has been a great success story of the renewable energy industry, opening with just four people in 2008 and expanding to in excess of 80 employees in 2021, with some of South Africa’s biggest renewable energy projects under its belt: successful REIPPP bids, South Africa’s first large microgrid project on Robben Island, and securing South Africa’s first large-scale wheeling agreement. The bursary adds to the company’s contribution to South Africa’s economy and its commitment to see South Africa thrive.

Are you interested in applying for the bursary? Click here to find out the eligibility criteria and apply online before 31 August 2021.

SOLA head of Project Development, Katherine Persson, visits a solar project.

What does a career in renewable energy look like if you’re a woman?

New SOLA executives lead the charge in a male-dominated industry

Whilst Women’s day in South Africa marks the historical contribution of women to ending Apartheid, it is also an opportunity to bring into public discourse the long way we have to go to reach gender equality. And it’s no different in the workplace – engineering is one of the most gender-unequal fields globally, and women are often sidelined and face multiple difficulties. However, as more women join and stay in the engineering profession, it paves the way for more diverse work cultures to thrive – so we asked some of our female executives to help us by giving an account of their experiences in the workplace so far. 

Getting started in renewable energy is often by chance, but it’s becoming increasingly easier to specialise in it from an earlier stage. “I got into renewable energy kind of by accident as one of the first jobs that came up when I left university was a role doing environmental studies for wind farms,” says Katherine Persson, Project Development Director at SOLA. “I’ve never really looked back since I started my career in renewable energy, it has always just seemed like a logical choice as it’s something that I enjoy doing and there has always been a need for my skills”.   

Robyn Moseley, Head of Operations and Maintenance at SOLA, agrees. “I was exposed to renewable energy concepts in my first job by chance, being given the task of looking into flywheel design, batteries, inverters and solar,” she remembers. “Once I started in the renewable energy industry I was hooked and never looked back”. 

“After my initial exposure to renewable energy, I signed up to do a Masters in renewable energy as I wanted to get to know more, but did not get into the business side until a couple of years later,” remembers Moseley.  Renewable energy courses used to be difficult to find, but now it’s becoming easier to go directly into renewable energy. “Renewable energy wasn’t ever punted to me as a career choice, so I’m super excited to see that entire University courses are now available, along with a growing industry that offers legitimate careers for people with lots of different education and skills backgrounds,” says Persson.

Despite both women creating thriving careers in Renewable Energy, it has not been without its challenges. It’s especially difficult to grow in a male-dominent environment where female mentors are rare. “There have not been many females which I have been able to utilise as mentors, so it has been a challenge to navigate and find ways of developing in the business, and work with my personality to find strengths and weaknesses to work on and grow.” says Moseley. 

Persson has had similar experiences. “I have worked hard to build my confidence working in male-dominated environments where I have sometimes suffered from a dash of ‘imposter syndrome’.  Over the years I’ve had hardly any exposure to working closely with females at executive level, which I think makes it even more challenging for women to learn and grow into these roles themselves.”

This, of course, is not helped by the microaggressions that many women face in a male-dominated environment, particularly how personal decisions are often judged in professional settings. “I face a lot of negativity about having a ‘demanding job’ when I have small children, although no-one asks about my husband’s ‘demanding job’, even though he also works full time,” sighs Persson. Moseley’s experience is similar. “I was once asked how my husband was going to eat for the week while I was away on site, or who takes care of my child when I am away,” she adds. These microaggressions can be exhausting to face on a daily basis, and add to the reasons that many female engineers leave the workforce. 

Then again, they are both extremely happy to have pursued careers in Renewable Energy. “The places I’ve travelled to for work, and the amazing people I’ve met, are definitely career highlights for me,” says Persson. “Being involved in Renewable Energy has allowed me to visit many interesting countries, such as Jordan and Rwanda, and I’ve kept in contact with many people throughout my career and made many friends,” adds Moseley.

There can be no doubt that the Renewable Energy industry, like most engineering-heavy sectors, have a long way to go in terms of creating equitable workplaces. Both Persson and Moseley agree that the sector has a long way to go, although green shoots are starting to appear, making the environment friendlier for women. To women seeking to enter into the renewable energy profession, Persson offers the following tips:

  • Although there are lots of engineering positions in renewable energy, don’t be tricked by thinking that it is only for engineers: our industry needs environmental scientists, social specialists, finance experts, logistics experts, lawyers, marketing experts, HR managers, etc. There is a space here for everyone to find their own flavour of ‘technical’.  
  • Be ready to learn, and learn fast. The demands of the renewable energy industry are changing all the time.   
  • Find a mentor – someone that can help guide and support you along the way. 
  • Groups of women in similar industries – such as WE Connect for women in renewable energy in South Africa – are also great sources of support.

“The renewable energy industry is vast and still growing.  There are many facets to the business and opportunities are there for any profession to thrive.  If you are willing to learn, dive in and be able to keep up with a fast-paced environment, renewables is for you,” echoes Moseley.

Are you still studying, but interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy? If you’re currently pursuing your BEng or BSc Eng in Electrical Engineering, you could qualify for SOLA’s engineering bursary. Click here to read more!

If you are currently working in renewable energy, have a look at our careers page for any vacancies we currently have available.

New report shows that job creation in the PV sector is inevitable

In the most conservative case, we’re looking at over 30 000 jobs created per year in the solar PV industry 

Job creation is one of the most important considerations for the South African economy. Sitting at around 29%, unemployment is a serious hindrance to the South African economy. The creation of solar PV systems for the government and private clients brings down costs and increases energy reliability, bolstering profitability and growing businesses. However, the question of how many jobs the PV industry creates has been a hot topic for several years. 

A new study, completed by the CSIR and commissioned by the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) with sponsorship from SOLA, has set out to look at just how many jobs solar PV has created in South Africa so far, and what we can expect from the industry in the future. 

Measuring jobs in the PV sector is tricky, because of the variability of jobs throughout the life-cycle of each plant. Typically, both large-scale and embedded generation plants will have quite a lot of employment during the construction phase, which taper off when the plant goes into Operation & Maintenance (O&M). However, these jobs last the lifetime of the plant, and thus are cumulative over time. 

How are solar jobs measured?


There’s been much discussion about how to measure jobs in the solar PV sector,  which has not had a unified approach or metric, resulting in confusion about the numbers of jobs created by the industry. As such, the first step in the research was coming up with a useful way to measure jobs, particularly those in the solar PV sector that tend to undulate based on construction times. 

Based on an international literature review and experiences in other survey approaches, the CSIR used “Full Time Equivalent” (FTE) as a metric to measure jobs. A FTE job looks at the amount of time that a worker spends at a job compared to a full time employee. For example, if an employee only works half-time, their FTE score would be 0.5. As a result, the metrics represented by FTE show what the equivalent full-time employment would be per annum for a particular job.

In addition, the CSIR used a standardised unit output of MW per annum in order to be able to compare jobs across the value chain. As such, the jobs in the analysis and in the future scenario modelling are represented FTE jobs per MW per annum. This allows the job statistics to be comparable across different sectors and in relation to other forms of employment creation, and takes a conservative view on estimating jobs.

The predicted scenarios for job creation in the solar PV industry in South Africa

The report looked at historical data in order to create a model to predict future employment scenarios in the sector. It modelled three different scenarios, the IRP 2019 scenario, the accelerated case scenario, and the high road scenario.

  1. The IRP 2019 scenario

This scenario looks purely at the jobs resulting from the Integrated Resources Plan 2019 by the South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. In this scenario, the solar PV industry would create between 33 000 – 35 000 jobs per year from 2022 and 2030, but there would be little consistency and large variations between years. 

  1. The accelerated scenario

This scenario takes into consideration the growth of the market outside of the IRP guidelines, and assumes that utility scale solar PV will be built in addition to embedded generation, owing to the government’s intention to allow more embedded generation to plug the energy supply gap in the short term. In this scenario, an initial spike in job creation of 51 580 FTE jobs will be created during 2022, followed by a dip back to 31 131 FTE jobs in 2023 and climbing to consistently to 37 975 jobs by 2030

  1. The high-road scenario

In this scenario, the predicted import of solar modules is expected to increase, in addition to the building of both Utility and embedded generation solar PV facilities, which continue to grow post-2022. In this scenario, jobs are expected to bounce up in 2022 to 53 422 FTE jobs, and return to 33 972 in 2023, growing steadily to 39 817 FTE jobs in 2030.

What does this mean for the sector?

The jobs report paints a picture of what the expected job creation trajectories will look like. The research highlights the fact that the halting of renewable energy procurement in 2015 was devastating to the jobs in the sector, but has not prevented it from recovering in the recent years. There are some important aspects to consider in order to ensure the maximum job creation:

  • O&M jobs are the most sustainable, as they run throughout the lifetime of each PV facility (usually around 20 – 25 years). They have the potential to create substantial, lasting job opportunities in the sector.
  • Localising PV component manufacturing could have a significant effect on the growth of PV-sector jobs in South Africa, particularly if there is a clear path to how much the sector will grow each year.
  • The embedded generation market is a very important player in the creation of PV jobs, but has been hindered by policy uncertainty. 

Overall, the report shows that whichever scenario ends up playing out, there is likely to be significant growth of solar PV jobs in the coming years. 

Download the full report here.

Interested in working for us? Have a look at our careers page for possible vacancies.

Women in STEM: SOLA engineers share their experience

Women’s Day in South Africa commemorates the importance of women’s involvement in the struggle against apartheid, particularly the march against pass laws in 1956. As a company, SOLA is in the business of engineering, a sector in which women have been historically underrepresented. But SOLA is committed to diversity – and believes in the power of diverse thought to enhance the work that we do.  Today, we take a look at two women engineers at SOLA who are on their own mission to change the world.

Solar engineer at SOLA

Abi Majoka is an electrical engineer with four years of experience designing solar PV facilities. Her mother, an architect, was purportedly the reason that she decided on engineering as a career. “I was encouraged to make a change to the narrative that women can’t handle certain tasks,” says Abi. 

Role models are an important aspect of driving more women to choose male-dominated fields for their career path. Amelia Bergh, a mechanical engineer by training who started as an intern at SOLA, was lucky enough to have several strong female role models in her family. She believes that she was drawn to engineering through her interest in finding and solving problems.

Women solar engineers at SOLA


“Growing up on a farm…I very soon found myself interested in fixing each and every problem. Engineering was the best degree I could think of to back up this interest.” 

Since beginning her career as an intern at SOLA, Amelia has come to be responsible for several large-scale solar PV designs, including one for Prospecton Brewery in Durban, a 1.3 MW solar system that is one of the 8 MW fleet that SOLA built for ABinBev last year. Abi was also involved in this project, designing the 1.3 MW system at Polokwane Brewery in Limpopo. 

Solar PV engineering for AB InBev at Prospecton Brewery Durban
All hands on deck: Amelia with colleague Milano Singh on site at Prospecton Brewery, Durban

Despite their experience, both engineers are proudest of their first designs. “No one forgets their first labour,” Abi laughs, remembering her first design at SOLA, a 944 kWp system at Dainfern Mall in Fourways. Amelia’s first design, for the Western Cape Blood Service, also made a meaningful impact. “It was a small project but I am still very proud of it,” she adds. Indeed, a career in engineering means being able to tackle challenging problems and be rewarded by providing workable, cost-effective solutions. “In many cases, my work measurably improves the safety and/or quality of life for people,” Abi adds. 

But being a female engineer isn’t always easy. “Being outnumbered, on any front, is not enjoyable, and being a female engineering student or professional you are outnumbered 1/10 at a good time,” says Amelia. The effects of having few women in engineering fields are widespread and high impact – from the design of seatbelts meaning women are much more likely to die in car crashes to design of stoves that impact negatively on women’s health. Thus having a diversity of perspectives is important – particularly in engineering.  

Being in the minority can also manifest in day-to-day work scenarios for women in engineering. “I have to constantly show my strength and ability to execute tasks that are not ‘womanlike’,” Abi states. Amelia agrees. “Being a woman in our industry definitely gets people thinking. I am gaining momentum on my experience and am proud to be showing everyone that a woman can do it too,” she adds.

SOLA has always been committed to diversity, formalising their policy in this regard in 2019 and solidifying diversity as one of their core values. Whilst there is a long way to go, the rewards serve everyone, both internal employees and clients alike. “We are lucky enough to have quite a few supportive women within our company which I turn to when I am wanting to chat to a female,” Amelia adds.

What advice do Abi and Amelia have for other women who would like to start their careers in male-dominated fields? “Don’t settle for a work environment that does not support your growth and give you opportunities to expand your knowledge,” says Amelia. “Make sure to surround yourself with people that see past your gender and are proud to have you in their team.” Abi puts it more simply. “Show up and be relevant. We can do it!”

If you are a female engineer or interested in becoming an engineer, have a look at this list of resources for female engineers. Also, keep an eye on SOLA’s social media and careers page for job opportunities. 

SOLA and project 90 by 2030 worked together on solar PV mentorship programme with Khayelitsha youth

Salt River Secondary receives a solar system, thanks to Project 90 and SOLA

On 7 December, SOLA Future Energy was privileged to build a solar PV system for Salt River Secondary School in Cape Town. This was a culmination of SOLA’s involvement in the “Playing with Solar” project organised by Project 90 by 2030.

The 3.96kWp solar system will save the school around R 8 200.00 on its annual electricity bill. It will also help the school cut back 5 tons on its yearly carbon emissions. The school was awarded a Wessa Eco-Schools flag in 2017.

SOLA installs PV system at Salt River Secondary School

The project and donation came after two months of collaboration between organisation SOLA Future Energy and the YouLead Warriors – youth taking part in Project 90’s climate-focused youth leadership initiative.

The YouLead Warriors were given practical training on the mechanics and benefits of solar power at workshops held earlier in the year. This consisted of two 4-hour workshops at SOLA’s offices, detailing the basics of solar system design and media strategy and communications. The youth also visited two of SOLA’s sites – the iconic Robben Islalnd Microgrid, and Kenilworth Centre’s solar system.

Project 90 site visit Kenilworth Centre

Project 90 site visit to Robben Island

Dom Wills, CEO of SOLA Future Energy, says that it was a privilege to work with these future leaders. “Through this project, we have been able to teach learners that providing a reliable, cheap and clean form of energy is something that can benefit communities and create jobs.”

The ‘Playing with Solar’ initiative was made possible by generous funding from the HCI Foundation.  The installation was made possible through donations from Ingeteam and Lumax Energy, who sponsored the solar inverter and mounting gear respectively.

Acting school principal, Fairuz Patel, thanked everyone who worked on the project, saying that the money they are saving “can make a massive difference in the kind of education we can offer our learners, while also making a real and tangible difference to the environment”.

Design engineer completes an industrial solar system design for a industrial power purchase agreement (PPA)

New design engineer off to a great start with industrial solar system design

Design engineer completes an industrial solar system design for a industrial power purchase agreement (PPA)

Mandi Qavane, one of 5 design engineers at SOLA Future Energy

Mandilakhe Qavane has been with SOLA Future Energy for about 6 months, although he’s been working in the renewables industry for about 3 years. The first fully-fledged system he’s designed with SOLA is Dynachem – a chemical powder manufacturing and packaging plant in an industrial part of Cape Town.

The system, which was completed this week, belongs to SOLA Future Energy, with a power purchase agreement (PPA) in place, which will enable the manufacturing plant to buy clean energy back at a fixed-rate tariff. The arrangement will provide the plant with clean energy over the next 20 years, shielding the industrial plant of the variability of Eskom tariff increases.

Mandi is 26 years old, having worked as a technical engineer after studying a B Tech in Mechatronic Engineering at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. He says that the Dynachem project taught him a lot about overseeing an entire project from the design, through to the construction and commissioning of a solar system. Although the project is small – 60 kW – it still carried its own challenges. The structural, engineering and mechanical aspects of the system needed to be carefully designed in order to make an efficient, optimised solar PV system for the industrial plant.

Although Mandi has worked on high-level designs for several larger systems, Dynachem is the first he’s designed from start-to-finish. The process, he explains, has taught him a lot about all phases of designing and constructing a solar system. “The best thing about [working with SOLA] is the experience… I have been with SOLA for 6 months now but there is a lot that I have learned,” he grins.

The Dynachem industrial solar system uses 180 Canadian Solar 330 watt poly crystalline modules and 1 50kW Inverter to deliver 59.4 kW of direct current (DC) electricity – around 36% of the plant’s energy needs. Reducing the plant’s entire load on the grid will mean that it will experience demand savings as well as reductions in its costs for energy per month. With the system lasting 20 years, the chemical manufacturer is likely to benefit substantially from the reduced energy costs.

Mandi is one of 5 design engineers working for SOLA Future Energy, and plans to get his Pr. Eng one day. He is excited to work on SOLA’s forthcoming projects – not only industrial plants like Dynachem – but in Africa too.

Dynachem chemical manufacturing plant will save 36% of its energy through its PPA

Dynachem chemical manufacturing plant will save 36% of its energy through its PPA with SOLA Future Energy

Parkwood Primary School goes solar!

As part of a community development program, SOLA Future Energy (SFE) and Aurora Power Solutions (APS) are bringing solar energy to the Parkwood Tech Centre at Parkwood Primary School. The project is part of Bottomup Nonprofit, an organisation with an award-winning computer-based maths program that doubled the pass rate of learners after just one year.  Together with Stanford University engineering graduates, the organisation has built and furnished a state-of-the-art technology centre.  SOLA Future and Aurora have joined the team to donate time, expertise and equipment for the design and installation of a 12kWp PV system that will supply most of the school’s electricity demand. Major equipment donations have come from SunPower and SMA.