Floating PV offers alternative to grid outages in South Africa

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South African renewable energy company New Southern Energy has completed construction of the first floating PV project in the country.

According to a government statement, the 60 kW floating installation, based on the hydrelio technology of French floating PV specialist Ciel&Terre, was deployed at the water reservoir of a fruit farm near Franschhoek, in the country’s sunny Western Cape province. The government said the facility will not only provide clean energy, but reduce water evaporation from the dam and save valuable agricultural land. The statement added, the project will enable the farm to source 90% of its cold storage, irrigation and Marlenique Estate wedding venue energy demand away from the grid.

“A second phase, which will see the installation of battery packs, will remove them from the grid completely,” the government statement added.

The farm, owned by Boplaas 1743, is expected to reduce its carbon footprint by half through the two-phase project. Western Cape provincial minister of economic opportunities Beverley Schäfer said the provincial government has urged businesses to use PV as an alternative energy source. “We’ve seen uptake grow from just 18 MW in 2015 to 112 MW today, which reduces demand on the grid and helps to diversify our energy mix,” she said. “We are pleased to see businesses like Marlenique responding to our call to invest in resilience in such an innovative way.”

Seeking alternatives to the grid

The allusion to resilience was clearly a reference to the difficult situation South African homeowners and businesses are facing due to frequent energy shortages caused by the financial and operational crisis at state-owned utility Eskom. “Without the support and encouragement from national and local government for industry to become more sustainable and independent in terms of power solutions, our business would not exist,” said New Southern Energy CEO David Masureik.

Although other floating solar projects have been announced in Africa, New Southern Energy’s Western Cape project is the first grid-connected plant of its kind on the continent.

According to a recent World Bank report, global cumulative installed capacity of floating PV plants was 1.1 GW at the end of September.