Energy at work

MAN launches its first carbon-neutral assembly plant


According to the head of production at the Pinetown Assembly Plant, Heiko Kayser: “Installation of the solar, or photovoltaic system, commenced in August 2014 and was completed in less than six months. The project forms part of MAN’s global climate strategy to reduce carbon emissions at its production sites in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America by 25% by 2020.”

According to the MAN climate strategy vision, the organisation; “will reduce CO2 emissions at MAN sites by improving energy efficiency, using renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal), generating energy using combined heat and power (CHP) plants, and through integrated energy-management technology and organization”.

Geoff du Plessis, managing director of MAN Truck & Bus (SA) (Pty) Ltd, confirms that this investment is not only a significant step in terms of our environmental commitment, but it also shows our long term commitment to the region and its future. “Our products and services are all aimed to minimise their carbon footprint, and it is great to see that even our assembly plant contributes in this regard,” says du Plessis.

With its abundant sunshine, Pinetown is a prime location to implement solar energy solutions and Kayser and his team procured expertise from KwaZulu-Natal to design and install the new photovoltaic (PV) system.

“Prior to rolling out the PV project, we refurbished our entire roofing system at a cost of over R5m to not only efficiently accommodate the solar panels, but also to install skylights and thermal insulation material to reduce demand for electric lighting and to make our buildings cooler for our operators,” explains Kayser.

Of the 10 000 square-metres of roofing covering all buildings at MAN’s Pinetown plant, 6 300 square-meters have been utilised to accommodate the PV installation. The 580kW system is capable of generating approximately 810 000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power per annum, providing a surplus of energy that can be supplied to the metropolitan (eThekwini) grid.

Alan Swart, managing director of Solaray, the company responsible for designing the R10m PV system for MAN Pinetown says; “We sourced state-of-the-art equipment including inverters and solar panels from Europe which are able to generate power even in cloudy conditions, as well as mounting equipment from China. The PV system is currently grid-tied but is capable of becoming either semi-grid tied or a completely off-grid system with the inclusion of a genset or battery system respectively”.

The PV system is linked to a web-based monitoring system that reports daily power consumption as well as electricity-cost and CO2 savings. Furthermore, the online reporting software also delivers exception reports, enabling Solaray (located just two kilometres away from MAN Pinetown) to rectify PV system issues swiftly. Solaray is also contracted to clean the solar panels every three months to ensure optimum efficiency.

“With occupational safety being a primary consideration for MAN, contracting an experienced PV system installation company was essential. We were fortunate that Solaray contracted the services of Renen Renewable Energy Solutions (Renen) for the installation – their efficiency allowed us to maintain our production targets 100% while recording zero safety incidents as a result of the installation,” says Lynette Kühn, SHEQ Manager at MAN Pinetown who also project-managed the solar conversion process.

KZN-based Renen has installed three of the province’s largest PV systems, including a one-megawatt system at a leading carpet factory. “Our experience in converting large buildings to solar energy made us a perfect choice for MAN and despite the fact that the MAN Pinetown project required us to install on several different rooftops each presenting its own set of challenges, we were able to complete the installation safely and entirely to design specifications, thanks to quality input from both MAN and Solaray,” explains Renen’s Luke Dillon.

In addition to the PV system, the MAN assembly plant has also installed a wash bay with a water recycling system which includes an oil-water separator. The system captures rainwater from the roof which is stored in tanks alongside the wash bay and is used to not only clean vehicles but also to test truck cabs for any leaks, as they roll off the assembly line.

Employing 160 personnel, MAN’s Pinetown Assembly Plant is spearheading the corporation’s climate change strategy with tangible benefits for all its stakeholders. According to Ncamsile Mbatha, SHEQ officer at MAN Pinetown Assembly Plant; “the fact that we are now using renewable energy means we are reducing pollution and our carbon footprint which is not only healthier for our people and our environment but it also helps reduce our production costs”.

For Kühn; “both the PV installation and the water recycling system demonstrate MAN’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and environmental protection. MAN Pinetown, being a CO2-neutral assembly plant and using water more responsibly is setting a new benchmark for sustainability in the automotive industry in Africa.”

Apart from the environmental and social benefits MAN Pinetown’s ‘green’ building will generate, impressive financial advantages will be realised, says Kayser: “we have calculated that our energy cost-savings for 2015 will be in the region of R1m with a CO2 saving of 860 tons per annum. These figures will improve over the following years”.

With MAN truck and bus derivatives currently setting new fuel-efficiency benchmarks in the South African commercial transport sector, MAN Truck & Bus managing director, Geoff du Plessis, regards the new carbon-neutral status of its main assembly plant as a powerful platform from which to gain ground in a domestic market that is not only consolidating via corporate mergers, but is also moving rapidly towards best practice procurement policies where environmental responsibility on the part of suppliers is a primary purchasing criterion.

“All of us at MAN Truck & Bus SA can be very proud of everyone working at our Pinetown assembly plant for sustaining their production output while this extensive conversion process was underway. To be the first heavy commercial vehicle assembly plant in Africa to become fully carbon-neutral, with a surplus supply of electricity to give back to the community, will give us a distinct competitive advantage in what is a very competitive industry. To become the first CO2-neutral plant in the MAN global production network is certainly an inspiration and an example to all our international colleagues of what can be achieved with commitment, passion and teamwork. Congratulations to Heiko, Lynette and their Green Team members,” concludes du Plessis.

Staff reporter

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Issue 39