Robben Island
Image credit: SOLA Future Energy

Working on an extremely sensitive site, both historically and ecologically, made the Robben Island solar project logistically challenging: requiring environmental clearance for every planned activity to ensure that the sensitive environment was not exploited. How well has the project fared?

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 2, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

According to the microgrid developer, SOLA Future Energy, the Robben Island project required having an archaeologist on site in case anything was discovered while clearing the area and digging trenches for cabling. The team was also sent on penguin handling training, in order to remove the island’s rare African penguins safely from the site during construction.

The island’s remoteness meant shipping everything to and from the project site during construction, which took place mostly during winter, when the seas were rough and boats were often cancelled due to stormy waters. The setting meant that the team needed to be doubly prepared for any eventuality during the project’s construction.

Since the island has never been connected to the main grid of South Africa, the residents have relied solely on diesel generators for electricity production. The project was therefore a complete microgrid project, combining solar PV with the diesel generators and lithium-ion batteries in order to reduce diesel consumption significantly. At the time of development it was the largest off-grid battery project in the southern hemisphere, and is still a pioneering project today.

The project has been operational since October 2017, and since its start has generated around 110,000kWh, avoiding around 800 tons of carbon emissions. However, the project has not been without its challenges. A seagull colony, situated on the opposite side of the island, decided to make its nesting ground right next to the PV plant after it was built, which meant considerably more cleaning was necessary than initially expected!

The microgrid required careful programming to ensure seamless switchovers of power, and SOLA’s engineers needed to carefully monitor the progress in order to ensure that Robben Island was not without power at any time. However, overall, the project has made a huge difference to Robben Island since it was built.

On 17 May, African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa will host a site visit tour where delegates will be taken on a short ferry ride to Robben Island. The visitors will find themselves on the historic island where Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, and Walter Sisulu, amongst others, were held prisoner during apartheid.

The tour will begin with a visit to the solar PV farm, a fixed-tilt ground mounted solution, containing 1,960 mono-crystalline solar modules and producing 666.4kWp of solar. Finally, the tour will stop past the battery bank and microgrid control centre, situated near to the old diesel generators. The battery bank contains 2,420 lithium-ion battery cells with 837kWh of stored capacity and 500kW supply of peak power. ESI

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 2, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

Attend the multi-track conference sessions and choose one site visit tour on offer at African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa in Cape Town where technologies, case studies, strategy planning and more are discussed.

www.african-utility-week.com | www.powergenafrica.com | gary.meyer@spintelligent.com | #AUW2019 #PGAF19