South African Business Park Feeds Power into Grid

A Cape Town-based business park is generating 2 million kWh per year from its solar project and is selling some of this power to the local grid.
Published: Tue 05 Aug 2014

Not only is the 1.2MW Black River Park (BRP) Solar Project the largest integrated photovoltaic plant in Africa, it is also the first to legally transmit electricity back into the City of Cape Town’s electrical distribution grid. [Engerati-Black River Park Commercial Roof Top Solar Project.]

Sustainability is key

Hosting the solar panels is a 74 000 metre squared office park in Observatory where over 100 companies are located. This commercial real estate is leading the way in sustainable commercial real estate. The solar system forms part of the office park’s strategy to reduce its carbon footprint and become self-reliant and energy efficient. This strategy follows Cape Town’s aim for sustainability and energy efficiency. [City of Cape Town-The drive to be more energy efficient.] and [Engerati-Small scale renewable electricity generation in the City of Cape Town.]

“Black River Park is aiming to become the first-choice office park for tenants who are striving to operate businesses that are environmentally aware. The solar installation contributes very significantly towards the many other greening initiatives we have on site, to identify but a few, a car-pooling network, reverse osmosis plant for landscaping irrigation, and on-site sorting for recycling,” says Joubert Rabie, developer and co-shareholder in Black River Park.

The total project size of 1.2MW makes it one of the world’s largest roof mounted solar PV systems, and the largest in Africa, able to generate just under 2 million kWh per year from about 5 500 modules. The project has a guaranteed lifetime of 20 years and has minimal operational costs.

The system’s over performance is mainly due to higher than expected peak demand savings added to the energy savings. The peak demand for air-conditioning, especially in summer, coincides with hot, clear days when the PV system is operating at capacity.

Apart from the savings generated, the solar system also attracts tenants to the office park that are placing increasing importance on being able to report sustainable business practices to their shareholders.

Tenants sign a green lease

Tenants leasing space in the building have to sign a green lease which has been set up by the Green Building Council of South Africa. The lease is a shared undertaking between the landlord and tenant to ensure the effective running of the building along environmentally-friendly principles. The lease is a win-win situation for both the landlord and the tenant-not to mention the environment!

Second phase

The second phase of the project includes adding an additional 500kW of solar power. This was approved without any subsidies based on the performance of the initial 700kW, which has been operating above expectations since August 2013.

“The approval from the City of Cape Town marks a considerable breakthrough in the pursuit of electricity users who invest in independent power production to sell energy back to the distributors during periods where it is not needed on site,” said Sola MD Chris Haw, who is also spokesperson for the South African PV Industry Association.

“This is something that already occurs in most parts of the world and something we’ve been trying to implement in South Africa for years.”

Competitive buy-back tariff

The buy-back rate has been set at 49.72c/kWh which is about the same as that at which the city buys electricity from Eskom, the country’s only utility. However, the rate is still lower than the rate at which the office park buys electricity from the municipality of Cape Town. This encourages most of the energy generated to be used on site, but caters for situations where the local demand is less than what is produced by the solar system.

“By international benchmarks, and also that of local solar IPPs, the buy-back tariff is low,” says Sola MD Chris Haw, who is also the spokesperson for the South African PV Industry Association. He adds, “The major obstacle preventing municipalities from encouraging more private generation and trade of electricity is the perceived threat to municipal revenues received from electricity sales. Sustainability experts, however, advise otherwise.”

“What municipalities are beginning to realise is the small amount of lost revenue from allowing solar generation is more than compensated for by the increased economic activity as a result of improved efficiencies and higher attractiveness of the location to do business,” said Professor Mark Swilling, academic director of the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch.