The Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) says it has spent R2,4 million in the first phase of a renewable energy system at its Rural Enterprise Development (RED) hubs in order to reduce production costs at the four sites.A further R10 million is required to roll-out phase two of the renewable energy system at all the RED hubs. The agency has already installed a 35kwh grid tied PV solar powered system at each of the RED hubs as part of the first phase. The hubs are located at Emalahleni Local Municipality, Ncora in the Intsika Yethu Local Municipality, Mqanduli in the King Sabatha Dalindyebo Local Municipality and in Mbizana at the Mbizana Loal Municipality.
These hubs link production to processing mills at the villages and other value adding operations as well as marketing. In practice this means, for example, maize is grown by the community, milled in the community, processed and packaged in the community and even sold back into the community with the whole process being owned by these communities.
“The reason for the installation of this system is to reduce high production costs at the RED hubs thereby making them more competitive in the open market by scaling down high overheads of expensive Eskom power. The milling plants at the RED hubs consume most of the electricity. The plan is to develop these systems to such an extent that they are off-grid and rely solely on power generation and to relieve the pressure on Eskom.
“In practice, when the sun is out, the system operates taking over from Eskom power and it will generate its own power. When the sun goes down Eskom takes over again. Even on cloudy days if the PV system isn’t working to capacity, Eskom will supplement the shortfall. ECRDA needs about R10 million to roll out phase two which includes the installation of a battery back-up system at all the hubs. Integrated into phase two is to have alternative energy supplying water to the RED hubs where necessary. For example, the Mbizana RED hub has no water and it has to be carted form nearby streams. We intend to put in wind turbines to pump water up to the hub,” says ECRDA renewable energy specialist Roger MacLachlan.
MacLachlan says the Mbizana RED hub will be the first to benefit from phase two of the system in 2018 with the installation of a battery back-up system at the cost of R2 million. This means that when the solar panels are working at capacity, they also charge batteries so that the batteries will release power when the PV panels are no longer receiving adequate sunlight. The other RED hubs will also receive the same system once budget has been secured.