SOLTRAIN 4, Newsletter #6

Centurion Building: Lessons and savings from solar thermal in the residential sector

A report on one of SOLTRAIN's demonstration projects in the residential sector in Cape Town has been published.

The Centurion Building's solar thermal system (shown below) with heat pump backup was commissioned in 2018 and has saved 470MWh of electricity (a reduction of 69%) and R220,000 since commissioning.

The building is an old hotel that has been re-purposed as apartments for retirees. There are 134 apartments, with some retail outlets on the ground level.

Download the full report from this link.

Regional policy interventions in support of the implementation of Solar Thermal Roadmaps bear fruit

Kuda Ndhlukula

The SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) has a mandate to increase access to modern energy services and to improve energy security across the SADC Region. The six SOLTRAIN partner countries; Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have developed Solar Thermal Technology Roadmaps and Implementation Plans (, and the roadmaps have set solar thermal technology targets of each of the partner countries.

Successful implementation of these Roadmaps requires strong political support, hence between January 2020 and February 2021, a total of 14 policy workshops were carried out in close co-operation with SACREEE, AEE INTEC and the respective project partners in each country. The aim of the policy workshop series was to explore and concretise ways to mobilize funding for the execution of the Solar Thermal Roadmaps and Implementation Plans.

Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshops were held as hybrid meetings starting from June 2020. Participants from the respective partner countries met physically in conference rooms in compliance with local COVID-19 regulations. The representatives of SACREEE and AEE INTEC and those that could not attend physically attended via an online conferencing platform.

Despite the hybrid setting, good discussions were possible with all participants.

Preliminary Outcomes

The policy workshops have resulted in some substantial progress in all the countries in transforming their Solar Thermal Roadmaps and Implementation Plans into bankable projects. 

Zimbabwe established a technical committee comprised of the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, the regulator, academia and others to solicit support from different organisations to transform the roadmap into a bankable proposal.  Support was secured from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the process is underway with the first draft bankable proposal submitted for review.  

Lesotho has secured support from the European Union Delegation in the country and discussions with the Department of Energy are underway. Namibia, through the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism and that of Mines and Energy is negotiating with a regional development bank to access Green Climate Fund resources as well as others.  The objective is to scale up the national Solar Revolving Fund to boost financing of the solar thermal sector.  In South Africa, the focus is on large scale systems as well as solar heat for industrial processes, but strong policy support and engagement with the financial sector is critical.

Botswana and Mozambique have each established a task force/technical working group composed of various national players to develop a working framework to engage different development partners to support their bankable proposals. The work of the national task force teams would be coordinated by the SOLTRAIN partners.  

What is evident in all the countries is that both local and external financial institutions are keen to fund the roll-out of solar thermal roadmaps but they require clear structures that will support their implementation in a sustainable way.

Solar cooking with evacuated tubes: Lesotho

Ivan Yaholnitsky

Evacuated glass tubes are central to a host of solar thermal applications. Several years ago innovators began harnessing evacuated glass tubes for cooking, putting them in a horizontal orientation and adding a reflective concentrator wing on each side, and then using an oblong narrow cooking tray that slides inside the tube. Various tube manufacturers have responded to this innovation and now offer much larger evacuated glass tubes designed expressly for solar cooking.

Last year BBCDC ordered a fourth container of solar water heaters from a supplier in China, and also included ten of the 137mm x 600mm evacuated glass cooking tubes developed by the same company.  They arrived in late December, and in the last few weeks, six prototype cookers have been fabricated and have demonstrated impressive results.

BBCDC’s aim is for a device that is robust, simple to use and easy to fabricate.  The glass tubes have a history of fragility.  At the 2019 Consol Foods Solar Cooking Conference, there was a presentation on the many ways an evacuated glass tube can break!  While certainly not foolproof, the BBCDC design is an attempt to forestall disaster and produce a cooker that is more rugged. 

It includes an ordinary glass cover that acts as a layer of protection from inadvertent impact or shock and a system of holding the tube securely in place with a soft heatproof tape and a solid enclosure.  This configuration provides for easy alignment and solar tracking. The large parabolas developed at BBCDC previously have more power and bake faster, but the compact size and portability of the new cooker is a significant advantage and makes local shipping and distribution feasible. 

Earlier experience with box cookers at BBCDC found that 0.25m2 of glass area gives plenty of power for cooking, hence the choice of dimensions informing the design of the top glass cover.  A mini parabola with a highly reflective surface wraps behind the glass tube.  While operational experience is just beginning, it has already proved to be a powerful device. It can roast a pan of vegetables (potatoes, butternut and onions) in an hour and a half, and bake a good size baguette in 45 minutes to an hour.

The best way to use the oven is on top of a table where it can easily roll and be wedged for altitude or twisted to follow the azimuth.  Any flat plate collector is quite efficient as long as it is oriented within 30° of normal incidence and does not fall into any shadows cast by nearby objects. Under these conditions and on a clear day, the cooker needs to be adjusted 5 or 6 times to obtain 8-9 hours of good cooking time.

The evacuated glass tube costs $45.00 USD and we can build the cooker for an approximate total cost of less than $100.00 USD. 

I am eager to see how this little cooker can support household energy security and economy, and micro-enterprises.  A fresh baguette is a much better product than generic factory baked bread.  We will continue to test and evaluate this promising solar energy application while avoiding the sound of broken glass, and will provide an update in 6 months.

Baguettes baked in 45 minutes in less than ideal conditions with some high cloud on the day

SOLTRAIN holds impactful hybrid information workshop targeting social homes in Botswana

Ditiro Setlhaolo

The Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC) in collaboration with the Solar Industry Association of Botswana (SIAB) hosted a number of representatives from social homes late last year. Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 'hybrid' half-day workshop was held in Gaborone, Botswana, and attracted more than 20 participants from orphanages, retirement homes, women’s shelters and children’s homes to inform them about the SOLTRAIN project, what it offers and how they can benefit from it.

The workshop was opened with a prayer from a volunteer followed by a welcoming from the Director of CERC, Dr Ditiro Setlhaolo, in which she thanked ADA for funding and AEE INTEC for managing the SOLTRAIN project. Dr Setlhaolo recognised the attendance of the Commissioner from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Mrs E.C. Batsalelwang, the SOLTRAIN project Coordinator Werner Weiss, workshop presenters and all participants. She also expressed appreciation to the workshop organisers and wished all a productive engagement.

SOLTRAIN Project Coordinator, Werner Weiss, joined the meeting online from Austria, sharing the overall objectives of SOLTRAIN and covering the importance of standards in ensuring the longevity and efficacy of solar thermal systems, the formal design process, appropriate technical specifications and system monitoring necessary to ensure the success of any solar thermal project.

The commissioner from the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, Ms E.C. Batsalelwang, honoured CERC's invitation to the meeting and gave a presentation on social homes and housing systems, describing how her Ministry is responsible for providing houses for the less privileged. She went on to acknowledge the benefits that projects like SOLTRAIN could impart at the policy level so that solar water heating (SWH) systems can be integrated into the national housing plan.

The principal of Maruapula School which has two SOLTRAIN solar water heating systems installed, Mr Labbeaus Ditiro Peloewetse, shared insight into his school's experience with SOLTRAIN, specifically, the benefit of the 50% co-funding, system reliability and the energy cost savings that the school has realised since the installation of the school's systems.

A local expert in solar water heating, Mr Herman Ngwenya, MD of Capricon Solar and SIAB Treasurer, gave additional insight into the experience of the local solar industry with regard to the construction and operation of solar thermal systems in Botswana, and Dr Kevin Nwaigwe of CERC elaborated further on funding for SOLTRAIN demonstration systems and some of the processes to be followed.

The workshop was deemed to be a great success and was closed with a prayer.

Group picture with the workshop attendees

SOLTRAIN's policy workshop from the private sector perspective

Karen Gibson

A recent policy workshop in Botswana was the very first fully virtual policy dialogue hosted by SOLTRAIN through AEE INTEC, CERC and the Solar Industries Association of Botswana. It provided an opportunity for information sharing between the various parties, with public and private sector participants taking the floor to present the work being undertaken, as well as some of the practical challenges faced by the private sector in that country.

The workshop was convened at a time where the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan is following the global trend of greening the recovery and also at a time where a public sector economy that has traditionally been mineral-led is now showing signs of transitioning into an export-led private sector economy.

Discussions highlighted the combined effort of the public and private sectors who are working collaboratively to find the best solutions for the next phase of implementation through the Solar Off-Grid Programme Guidelines and planned bankable project document which will see fruition through the steering committee formed at the first policy workshop held in one of the previous SOLTRAIN phases.

There was also a call for the private sector to revive the Solar Thermal Platform and to take a more proactive approach in driving the industry forward. This is seen as a positive development in a country that has mainly been led by government initiatives, highlighted by the fact that over 50% of the nation's employees are employed by the public sector.

These workshops help in strengthening private sector activity, encourage public-private sector cooperation, and assist with progress towards Botswana's NDP11 vision requiring more involvement from the private sector and alignment with the global Sustainable Development Goals.

One of Botswana's SOLTRAIN demonstration systems; The Maru-a-Pula Girls Hostel in Gaborone.


The Southern African Solar Thermal Training & Demonstration Initiative is a regional initiative for capacity building & demonstration of solar thermal systems in the SADC region. It is funded by the Austrian Development Agency. Please visit SOLTRAIN on the web at for more about the programme.


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