Innovation in South Africa’s agricultural sector is needed to provide a systemic solution to the country’s rising cost of transport, food and power. According to the REN21 Global Status Report, Brazil, China, India and South Africa are leading the development of large-scale innovative programmes that deal with the challenges of energy access and sustainability within rural communities.

Innovative off-grid energy technologies must be phased in to meet the demands of the agricultural sector’s 3.6% annual growth and delink it from non-renewable power sources across the food chain from source to consumer.

South Africa has vast untapped renewable energy sources especially in solar and wind energy. In addition, there is a large absorptive capacity among farmers and farming cooperatives for off-grid energy technology.

Trevor de Vries, managing director 3W Power South Africa, says, “Based on the number of large-scale solar installations on farms in the Western Cape, the market is ready for innovative, off-grid solutions that are custom-designed for farmers, cooperatives and smallholdings.”

AEG has introduced a next generation hybrid power generation system. It is capable of harnessing renewable and conventional energy sources in combination with energy storage. This enables the off-grid power plant to optimise the use of wind and solar energy at times of peak demand. It also has the potential to increase operating efficiencies with the advantage of reducing ownership and operating costs, decreasing fuel consumption and maximising system reliability.

“The agile intelligence of the AEG PS off-grid energy system enables farmers in the most remote rural areas to build and maintain sustainable farming systems with efficient operations, independent of the national grid,” de Vries says.

In comparison with the cost of grid extension, fuel and fuel delivery to remote locations, AEG’s system reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by between approximately 30% and 100%, stores excess generated energy and has short payback periods of three years or less.

With Eskom’s prices set to increase at eight to 16% over the next five years, mass conversion to off-grid energy is necessary to unlock the absorptive capacity of farmers to harvest the country’s wind and solar potential to ease the growing burden on consumers. This will also help secure South Africa’s long-term competitive advantage as a world leader in agricultural production and grow jobs in the green economy.

“Off-grid solar power is central to changing the energy-access dynamic in South Africa and transforming rural villages into centres of commercial innovation for the benefit of South African businesses, consumers and workers. Our vision is in line with innovative initiatives driven by the South African Government’s Renewable Energies Independent Power Producer’s Programme (REIPPP) as well as strategies within the National Development Plan 2030 and the Integrated Resource Plan,” de Vries says.