1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is René Salmon, I am a 45-year-old single parent to a 16-year-old. I hail from the Cape Flats, Mitchell’s Plain.
2. What work do you do?
I am Production Manager at Ener-G-Africa’s (EGA) all-woman Solar Module assembly plant in Ndabeni, Cape Town. EGA as a company tackles climate change and improves households’ lives through quality, affordable, and sustainable energy products made in Africa, for Africa. At our plant in Cape Town, we have the capability of producing low-cost, high-quality 20,50, and 360-Watt solar modules for the local market.
3. How long have you been in the industry?
I am still a baby in the industry, as EGA’s solar panel plant official launch was in February 2023. I have, however, been with EGA since the planning process of the plant in 2022 and was heavily involved in the construction and commissioning process of the plant.
4. Has your work always been your passion? Tell us why?
From a very young age, I was taught that you should always approach any endeavour with everything you have. I believe that one should approach your job with passion, or it would just become routine or mundane. I have come across so many people in life that dread going to work every day and that is so sad because one ends up just pushing the hours every day and living just for the next payday.
Yes, you should get paid for doing your job, but doing what you are passionate about almost makes the pay seem like a bonus! It’s also fulfilling to know that your efforts contribute to a global initiative as EGA promotes access to clean and renewable energy for all while protecting Africa’s natural resources for future generations.
5. Being a woman in the industry – what does it take?
For me, it was never a matter of being male or female. I believe that anyone who is hard-working can achieve anything. As a leader, in any industry, you need to be assertive and focused. Yes, some male counterparts may see you as feeble and someone to be trampled upon. If you establish from an early stage that you can work as hard as and reach the same targets as your male colleagues, it becomes obvious that you are none of the above. In the end, you are seen as an equal and nothing else. This is what my experience has taught me.
6. What has been the most difficult challenge of your career?
At EGA, we manufacture small solar panels for Africa. Usually, these products don’t come with reputable certifications, which has unfortunately led to Africa being flooded with inconsistent and inferior panels. Ours is the first and only small solar panel plant in the world certified by TUV Rheinland. This means that some of Africa’s poorest communities now have access to solar with the highest quality certification available.
Although incredible, this has put a lot of pressure on our training efforts. So, the most difficult challenge of my career is that we had nowhere to benchmark from. Yes, we received training on how modules are made from our Engineers and external parties, but when we ran into challenges like the layout of the actual production line or the most efficient finishing process, we were stuck.
In my experience, Engineers and Production Managers are from different spheres of the industry: Engineers need things to work even if it is only one product, whereas Production Managers need to look at manufacturing costs, manpower, quantity, as well as quality. We also need to figure out logical production lines and follow an efficient and quick route from start to finish.
This has been the most difficult part of my job. The production team and myself had to figure out all this on our own, through trial and error. At times the feat seemed so daunting that it scared us. There were times when we felt like we would fail. It took a lot of late nights, prayer, and motivational talks to the team: “Ladies, this is NOT impossible. It’s being done by China, India, and Canada. We can do this!” …And we did!! My incredible team turned what seemed impossible into a victory!
7. What advice do you have for other women in your industry?
Never believe that this is it! The energy industry is so innovative and dynamic. We learn something new every day, so never limit yourself to believing that you have learned enough. Every day brings the opportunity to challenge yourself. You never know, the next Marie Curie might be among us!!!
8. Plans for the future?
We are planning to enlarge our Solar assembly line in 2024 and re-locating to Paarl. For now, I am just grateful for having the team of females that I am so privileged to work with. I would love to see us being compared to the rest of the other top Solar manufacturers in the world. For now, we are just happy and so thankful to be doing what we are doing and to improve every day, one step at a time!!