Enertronica Santerno inverter success story in South Africa

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Globally respected for their high quality, Enertronica Santerno (Santerno), has manufactured inverters and conversion units in Italy since 1971. In 2015 the company established a fully independent branch in South Africa. I recently caught up with Luigi Guerra, Country Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa at Santerno, to find out more about the company’s success story in the country.

Luigi Guerra
Country Manager for Santerno Sub-Saharan Africa

 The Santerno brand is now well established in South Africa, what has been the key to your success?

Santerno has roughly 550 MW capacity of installed inverter- based solutions in South Africa where we have retained the role of O&M Contractor for around 400 MW. This sets us apart because at any given time, Santerno’s personnel is permanently deployed on-site assisting, on a day-by-day basis. The remaining 150 MW are still taken care of or an “on-call” basis. We have a team of 25 specialized field technicians to assist our clients in South Africa plus a broader offering in the form of a workshop for testing and repairing power converters. 

Tell us more about this workshop?

The workshop adds great value to the services that we can provide to our customers because it cuts dramatically the logistics time and costs incurred when repairs are needed. The company is working to further expand the capabilities of the workshop in 2024 importing additional testing benches and equipment from Italy which, in turn, will increase the range of products that Elettronica Santerno can independently test and repair locally.

The workshop is at the core of a € 2,2 million project signed with one of the main IPPs operating in South Africa for an 82,5 MWp plant located in the Northern Cape where Santerno’s Power Conversion Units where initially installed in 2023.  The project, which is an absolute first in its kind, entails an extension for additional five years of the warranties of the Power Conversion Units, up to August 2025, including the refurbishment of the TG750 – 1000V inverters.

Generally speaking, coming from the past experience as an EPC (Enertronica Santerno built themselves two 82,5 MW plants in the Northern Cape region) and operating as an IPP in Namibia, where we still retain ownership of one of the two 5,2 MW solar farm we built within the REFIT Round 1 framework, we do understand special needs of IPPs and, for instance, the above mentioned project helped the IPP to refinance their credit lines with the Lender: reconditioning our inverter power station and adding additional long term performance guarantees with full onsite servicing support made a big difference in the process. This is in lockstep with Lenders’ requirements of a solid and constructive partnership between IPPs and inverters manufacturer throughout the entire life cycle of the plant.  

Inverters for early REIPPPP projects are reaching their end of life. You do offer a conversion solution. Tell us about your 1,000 V centralized inverter?

Enertronica Santerno is one of the very few inverters manufacturer that includes in its commercial offer a 1,000 V, centralized inverter. Such kind of product it’s an extremely valuable and competitive option for any player that is looking to upgrade/refurbish their plant, using the latest available technologies. This offering is particularly suited for any solar farm that was built before the 1,500 V became the market standard for this kind of applications.

Solar farms built within the REIPPPP Round 1 framework, for instance, are reaching their tenth year of operation and local players are already looking on the market for alternative solutions to those installed on site and which might be showing end-of-life related signs. When planning the next steps, redesigning a system initially conceived to operate at a DC voltage of 1,000 V to 1,500 V, whenever that is even an option, entails a significant effort both on the paper and economically.

Enertronica Santerno1,000 V centralized inverter can be easily installed, with some minor re-work of the supporting base/platform, on any existing layout.

The Santerno TG610 1000V grid connected solar inverter are certified in compliance with the most recent IEC regulations, providing grid support features such as FRT, active power modulation, voltage control. Utility Interactive features are embedded, software-controlled and completely configurable based on the applicable grid code. AC Power at 45 °C vary from 329 kVA to 655 kVA with Extended MPPT Ranges from 312 – 1,000 Vdc to 600 – 1,000 Vdc.

The Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) market is gaining a lot of traction in South Africa. Do you offer BESS?  

Yes, we do. We have partnered with an Italian based global player in the energy storage, e-mobility and EV public fast charging infrastructure to develop cutting edge technologies for BESS. As a result of such collaboration, we offer the Sunway TG 2000 BESS, a three stage, bi-directional family of inverters designed for utility-scale storage applications boasting an impressive 2 MVA at 45 °C, which will soon include a product specifically intended for power generation purposes.

Enertronica Santerno Sunway TG 2000 BESS – General Layout

The innovative energy storage system features all the latest technology which allow for high reliability and, at the same time, power density and flexibility, with a wide DC operating voltage range (up to 1,500 V) so to ensure full compatibility with any kind of batteries on the market.

This includes 4-quadrant operation and the support to functions like Grid Forming, Black Start, and Virtual Inertia. These features as well as the forced air-cooling system allows operation up to 50°C, result in plant layout optimization, cost reduction, and maximum plant efficiency (99,8%). The system supports 120% overloads for 2 s and can deal with 150% short-circuit current injections for 500 ms.

It is an election year in South Africa which may ring in a coalition government. Are you concerned about the long-term prospects in the country?

Political considerations aside, we strongly believe South Africa still offers great opportunities to companies like ours. If you think about it, the decision of the company to start-up the workshop we previously spoke about, which is the first workshop ever opened by the company outside of Italy, it’s a testament to our commitment to the Country in the long run. We do have special plans for the South African branches, including the option of expanding the workshop to start assembling our products locally and hit the 40% Local Content target of which the DTIC has been discussing about for the last few years now in the context of the set of designated items for REIPP projects.

Also note we have recently extended the O&M contracts for our Power Conversion Units installed in various regions of South Africa for a total installed power of approximately 314 MW for an additional year, up to April 2025. The agreement further entails additional renewals up until 2028.

The contracts, signed with a leading Italian Independent Power Producer, valued €1,125,135.00, will see the company’s technicians permanently stationed at the four solar plants covered by the contracts, carrying out scheduled, corrective, and, when necessary, extraordinary maintenance on the TG 760 1000V Santerno inverters already installed under Round 3 of the REIPP Program, funded by the Country’s public authorities.

Truth to be said, we have managed to secure these contract extensions because of the dedication and commitment of our onsite staff over the past five years at these plants but also because we keep investing in human resources from local communities, contributing to the development of appropriate socioeconomic policies in the Country. Once again, this tells a lot about how we strongly believe in the Country.

Finally, we are well positioned to provide our latest technologies in some of the projects approved under the REIPP Bid 6. This might position us as the largest provider of centralized inverter solutions in the Country, which is amazing but still: “with great power comes great responsibility” someone would say. 

Thank you for your time, do you have a contact email for IPP’s and EPC’s interested in your products and services?  

I would be very happy to hear from them directly, hence, any interested stakeholder can reach out to luigi.guerra@santerno.com. I will also be at the Intersolar 2024 that will be hosted in Munich (Germany) from June 19 to June 21. Santerno will attend with several executives, including our CEO, Mr. Vito Nardi, showcasing our products and technologies at pavilion B4, stand 470. I’m looking forward to meeting in person any interested party that will be attending.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal


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