Mon and Tue, 22 and 23 October 2018. Emperors Palace, Johannesburg, South Africa.
SOLA Future Energy has designed and constructed a solar energy microgrid for Robben Island. The system consists of a solar photovoltaic (PV) farm, combined with a lithium-ion battery storage facility and smart controllers to ensure a seamless electricity supply.
Robben Island has an energy usage profile that comprises residential needs, desalination, harbour, and offices; in total, the island uses almost 2-million kWh of electricity annually. Commissioned by the Department of Tourism, the solar PV project will produce almost 1-million kWh of electricity a year.
The microgrid consists of three power production elements. The solar PV farm consists of 1960 mono-crystalline modules with a total of 666,4 kW power supply. The battery bank consists of 2420 lithium-ion battery cells, enough to store 837 kWh and output a maximum of 500 kVA. The third power production element is the diesel generators, which are used when no solar or battery storage is available. Multiple controllers between these power production elements balance the power supply and create a smart microgrid.
The microgrid on Robben Island is the largest combined solar and lithium-ion storage microgrid system in South Africa, said Dom Wills, CEO of SOLA Future Energy. For Robben Island, the solar microgrid will reduce its fossil fuel consumption by 235 000 l of diesel per year, which is 50% of total yearly use. This will result in a reduction the island’s carbon emissions by at least 820 t, and will save the island money during its 25 years of operation. The island’s microgrid is also a very good example of how non-electrically connected Africa will be powered in the next 20 years, explained Wills.
The island is a world heritage site and a very sensitive area to carry out construction. Environmental and historical considerations meant that the site for the PV farm was carefully chosen. SOLA staff had to also be sent for training to handle penguins, snakes and wildlife as well as archaeological artifacts that might be discovered underground.
The company believes that Africa’s future relies on affordable, clean, reliable and accessible energy. Besides financial savings, Robben Island’s transformation is symbolic as it shows that an affordable and clean energy future is possible for off-grid communities.