Pretoria - The CSIR and the SA National Energy Development Institute yesterday hailed the building of the solar array at the institution’s Pretoria campus near the N4 highway as a way to make people aware of renewable energy.
The institute is the state-owned agency mandated by the government to co-ordinate renewable energy research and development in South Africa.
The project manager of renewable energy at the entity, Dr Karen Surridge, said the structures were garnering public interest since they were displayed to everyone.
She added that the agency was working together with the CSIR to explore the most effective options to enable solar-powered electricity generation systems to supply electricity when the sun was not shining.
Surridge said the solar array structures were “part of an advanced solar energy system providing the institution with electricity and research benefits”.
The structures were made of a solar array consisting of 1 800 photovoltaic (PV) modules covering a total surface area of 3 493m².
The modules are controlled by a ground-mounted single-axis solar tracker that allows them to tilt and follow the movement of the sun from east to west.
The tracking system is generally more expensive to install and maintain than a fixed/non-tilting system, but produces more electricity.
According to the CSIR, the tracking PV facility was the first 100% South African-designed and made tracking system and substructure in the country.
Surridge said: “People are becoming familiar with seeing fixed-position solar panels on roofs, but for people with little knowledge of renewable energy, the CSIR solar array must have appeared as a strange sight.”
She said the solar array was fully operational, and its high visibility on one of the busiest stretches of road in the country allowed its builders “to make more people aware of renewable energy and its value”.
The project was steered amid the public outrage over Eskom’s proposed 20.5% tariff hikes, which the power utility wants to come into effect in April.
It also provides multiple benefits, as a valuable research facility and training ground for PV engineers and technicians, according to Surridge.
“It also generates 4% of the electricity required by the CSIR Pretoria campus.
This is equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power 200 middle income households.
“By being able to produce some of its own electricity, the CSIR is also able to contribute to reducing the amount of electricity Eskom is required to generate for their demand, and to ease the impact of load shedding,” she said.
The solar power generated by the facility would equate to an annual carbon dioxide saving of approximately 1 200 tons, which would significantly reduce the CSIR’s carbon footprint and help South Africa meet its international commitment to combat climate change.
“We want the public to appreciate that although renewable energy can only be generated when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, it can nevertheless play a valuable role,” Surridge said.
She added that like many large enterprises, the CSIR operates mainly during the day, when conditions for solar energy generation were highly favourable.
“A PV system is therefore ideal for an institution such as the CSIR that has its main energy demand during the day. You can tailor technology to meet your requirements.
“Of course, many companies and households still need electricity when the sun is not shining, and the obvious way in which a solar plant can continue to provide electricity is to equip the system with some form of storage.
“This would allow the PV plant to store the surplus electricity generated during the day and to supply this at night, and particularly during peak periods when the national electricity grid is under the greatest pressure," she said.
Both the CSIR and the agency were also collaborating with large companies to explore several storage options, using mainly battery technology, for small- to large-scale PV systems, Surridge said.
“We will keep the public informed of progress in this exciting project.”