Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) has embarked on a pioneering solar energy project for its Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria, as part of its vision to develop an integrated renewable energy solution that aims to have the Silverton Assembly Plant entirely ‘green’ and energy self-sufficient by 2024 – making it one of the very first Ford plants in the world to achieve this status.
The company has kickstarted ‘Project Blue Oval’ through a partnership with SolarAfrica to provide a 13.5MW solar installation for the facility, valued at R135-million, which will deliver approximately 30-percent of the Silverton plant’s annual power requirements. This involves installing specially developed and locally manufactured solar photovoltaic (PV) carports throughout the facility, using more than 31 000 solar panels. Covering parking bays for around 4 200 vehicles, it will be one of the largest solar carports in the world.
“Ford Motor Company has launched clear objectives to address climate change, which compel us to change our behaviour in profound and lasting ways,” says Andrea Cavallaro, Director Operations, Ford International Markets Group. “As stated in our 2020 Sustainability Report, Ford is the only full-line automaker in the US committed to doing its part to reduce CO2 emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, and we are working towards stronger vehicle greenhouse standards to reduce our impact on the environment.
“With our Creating Tomorrow Together transformation plan, we are accelerating our efforts to be a leader in mobility, and making progress toward our vision of clean, safe, affordable and accessible transportation for all,” Cavallaro adds. Ford’s future-oriented strategy includes maximising new opportunities created by electrification, self-driving technology and smart mobility solutions. The exciting new Mustang Mach-E and the upcoming all-electric F-150 pickup are perfect examples of how Ford is creating the platform for a brighter, emissions-free future.
“An integral part of building high-quality vehicles in an environmentally and socially responsible way is reducing the impact of our operations and supply chains through world-class facilities, innovative manufacturing processes and the most sustainable materials,” Cavallaro says. “Renewable energy is at the centre of this focused plan to reduce and ultimately eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels while lowering and offsetting the production of CO2 emissions.”
Ford is also addressing the dependence on precious water resources, particularly in water-scarce countries such as South Africa, as well as reducing and eventually completely phasing out its contribution of waste to landfill.
“I am proud to announce that Project Blue Oval in South Africa sets a benchmark for Ford Motor Company’s objective to use 100-percent locally sourced renewable energy for all our manufacturing plants globally by 2035,” he adds. “It also takes us one step closer to achieving carbon neutrality globally by 2050 – both for our facilities around the world and within our supply base.”
Aiming for Island Mode in 2024
According to Ockert Berry, VP Operations at FMCSA, the solar project is the first step towards achieving ‘Island Mode’ within the next four years. At this point the Silverton Assembly Plant – which produces the Ford Ranger, Ranger Raptor and Everest for domestic sales and over 100 global export markets – will no longer rely on the national power grid or any municipal services.
“Our goal by 2024 is to have the Silverton plant completely energy self-sufficient and 100-percent carbon neutral, using an integrated renewable and co-generation energy mix comprising solar PV, biomass, biogas and biosyngas for all our electricity, gas and heating requirements,” he says. “We will also be introducing 100-percent water recycling, and all non-fermentable waste will be repurposed through a pyrolysis system to produce syngas.
“This is a bold and pioneering step that will transform our business, helping us make an important contribution to reduce our impact on the environment,” Berry states. “It will also make our Silverton Assembly Plant both more efficient and more cost-competitive.”
Aside from the environmental and cost benefits, Project Blue Oval will also bring to life Ford’s vision of job creation, starting with the domestic manufacturing of the solar carports by SolarAfrica, which will create 100 jobs locally. During the next phases which are currently being investigated, the introduction of biomass as a source of renewable energy, and the outsourced farming of fermentable biomass plants in rural areas that would support this project, will be instrumental in driving this vision forward – creating employment for a further 2 400 people.
Effectively dealing with SA’s energy and environmental challenges
David Sonnenberg, Chief Technical Officer of SolarAfrica and Project Blue Oval, says that the solar project is the first step towards addressing South Africa’s energy and environmental challenges.
“As we are all too well aware, South Africa is currently faced with a crippling energy crisis, coupled with the ongoing threat of load shedding, ever-increasing electricity tariffs, municipal shortage of capacity, demand charges on power, and the erratic quality of this power delivery with regard to spikes and dips,” Sonnenberg says. “For a global manufacturing operation such as Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant, these challenges make running a facility of this scale efficiently exceptionally difficult – both in terms of the availability of reliable energy, and escalating costs.
“An added challenge is that most of South Africa’s electricity is generated through fossil fuels, and specifically from coal-fired power stations. The high level of greenhouse gases generated exacerbates the environmental damage and resulting climate change,” he adds. “Water is also a very precious and scarce resource in South Africa. It is too valuable to be used once only, so we have to fundamentally change the way we use and consume water, particularly for the manufacturing sector.
“Along with Ford, we share the vision of a zero-emission future, and we welcome Ford’s enthusiasm and passion in launching the solar energy project, and working towards the broader green initiatives in the future.”
Ground-breaking solar solution
SolarAfrica, which is one of South Africa’s leading power purchase agreement providers, has developed a bespoke cantilever solar carport for this vast project. “We are delighted and proud to have been selected as the solar provider for this pioneering project, and developing what will be one of the largest solar carports in the world,” says David McDonald, MD of SolarAfrica. “It has been a pleasure working with such a progressive team, and Ford’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and willingness to adopt change has been refreshing.”
The solar PV carport is locally sourced and has been specifically designed to offer hail protection for the finished goods vehicle inventory whilst producing cheaper, cleaner energy for Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant.
“The solar project is an important step towards achieving Ford’s broader green energy objectives, and will be an enabler to all other phases of this project given the commercial viability, speed of deployment and simplicity of solar as a service,” McDonald says. “Our turnkey solution will provide Ford with the peace of mind that the system is installed, maintained, monitored, insured and performing at its optimum, thereby enabling the highest energy savings for Ford’s local manufacturing operations.”
To view the virtual launch video on Ford South Africa’s YouTube channel, click:
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