As South African consumers face a possible additional R69 billion in electricity tariffs over the next three years and loadshedding looms the likely flick of a switch away, local business Makana Brick is well on its way to electrical independence. Sue Maclennan reports
On a piece of ground a bit smaller than a rugby pitch stand 1000 solar panels that have taken Makana Brick in Makhanda a step further from being at the mercy of Eskom. The new photovoltaic plant is designed to produce 600 000 kilowatt hours a year – around 17% of the factory’s electricity needs.
Put differently, it’s enough to power 40 homes. With batteries installed to store the extra power generated, says Makana Brick CEO Colin Meyer, the company could go completely off grid. With that, Meyer told guests at the recent launch of the facility, Makana Brick would be well on its way to becoming the most environmentally friendly brick factory in South Africa.
While the solar plant cost R4.5 million, Meyer said it would effectively have paid for itself in less than five years. Savings in just the first year were expected to be R675 000 before tax incentives.
“With a 25-year lifespan, those savings can only increase,” Meyer said.
More important, the solar plant had reduced the factory’s dependence on Eskom, making them less vulnerable to the power utility’s load-shedding and exorbitant price increases.
VIP guests at the launch in December included Makana Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa, Grahamstown Business Forum Chairperson Richard Gaybba, CM Heunis Construction financial manager Neels Heunis, Director of solar farm installers Sinani Engineering, Matthew Ball and GBS Mutual Bank Managing Director Anton Vorster.
The team from Sinani, Meyer said, had all been educated in Makhanda. Their bid had been selected on the basis of not only being the best, but also the most cost-effective. The Level 2 B-BBEE Business, based in Johannesburg, operates across South Africa.
“Our own exceptionally smart and talented engineering team will manage it,” Meyer said. “And I know it will work. We have a world-class facility here in Grahamstown, developed, managed and run by Grahamstown people.”
Meyer said the solar plant’s capacity could eventually be expanded to produce all of the electricity required by the factory.
“It just requires the installation of batteries to store excess power,” Meyer said. This would be a considerable additional investment and they would approach finance partners GBS Mutual Bank for this.
Chairperson of GBS Mutual Bank’s Board Owen Skae described Makana Brick as a valuable corporate citizen in Makhanda.
“Like GBS Mutual Bank, Makana Brick has invested in the economic future of our town,” Skae said.
“Here, things are really happening. Our financial commitment is a small price to pay for the effect on local economic development, job creation and this commitment to sustainable industry.”
According to Makana Brick’s website, since they established the company in 1994, more than R120 million has been invested in the plant and infrastructure. “Makana Brick now boasts one of the most technologically advanced clay brick plants in the country,” the company’s website says.
SOME FACTS ABOUT MAKANA BRICK’S SOLAR FARM
What is it?
A solar microgrid to supplement and secure Makana Brick’s power supply, the farm of photovoltaic (PV) panels is designed to produce 600 000 kW hours per annum. This is 17% of Makana Brick’s electricity requirements. It supplements power in the factory’s operations, as well as running all the electrical motors for the fans and equipment on the dryer and kiln.
So far, it operates as a closed grid, only supplying to Makana Brick.
“At present we do not feed back into the Eskom transmission system,” Meyer told Grocott’s Mail. “Technically we are able to, but legally not (yet).”
From 1 January 2016 the South African Revenue Service introduced tax incentives for the installation of photovoltaic solar energy generation systems. Taxpayers can additionally claim for depreciation on their solar power systems. The combination of the Section 12B tax benefit and the annual energy savings, Makana Brick says, results in a simple payback for them of just over four years.
As Eskom’s operational and economic failures continue, many individuals and businesses are resorting to petrol generators to secure their energy supply. But in addition to health and environmental concerns, these fossil fuel-based solutions incur ongoing costs in terms of procurement, logistics, storage, quality monitoring and carbon tax.
Delivering around 1000 watts per square metre, solar energy is one of the cleanest energy solutions available and is completely renewable.
Most areas in South Africa average more than 2500 hours of sunshine per year – one of the highest in the world – thanks to its equatorial position. After the initial payback period, solar electricity is free.
HOW DOES SOLAR POWER FIT INTO GOVERNMENT PLANNING?
The Department of Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is integral to the National Development Plan 2030. A revised version was approved by Cabinet last year.
Micro-grids (that’s what Makana Brick has) have the potential to provide power in remote areas without exorbitant costs, and also to create jobs, the IRP notes.
“The cost of providing a grid connection has increased as the areas being serviced become more remote… Solar energy has the potential to address the need for energy access in remote areas, create jobs and increase localisation.”
HOW DOES ELECTRICITY REACH US?
Electricity generated is transmitted through a network of high-voltage transmission lines that connect the load centres. Eskom and municipalities distribute the electricity to various end users.
THE INTEGRATED RESOURCE PLAN (IRP2019)
With 2030 as its target, the Department of Energy is looking for ways to reduce South Africa’s reliance on a few primary energy sources. In moving away from coal as the country’s main energy source, it’s looking for technology that can increase the country’s existing power-production capacity and complement it.
According to the plan’s targets, by 2030, a quarter of South Africa’s installed energy generation capacity will comprise wind and solar power.
CHANGING SOUTH AFRICA’S POWER MIX
The figures, in Megawatts, indicate installed capacity
|SOURCE||NOW||BY 2030||% of mix in 2030||Notes|
|Coal||39 126 MW||33 847 MW||44.6%||12 000 MW capacity to be decommissioned 2020-2030|
|Nuclear||1 860 MW||1 860||2.5%|
|Pumped storage||2 912 MW||2 912 MW||3.8%|
|Hydro||2 196 MW||2 500 MW||6.2%|
|Diesel/gas||3 830 MW||11 930 MW||15.7%||Around three times as much|
|Solar PV||1 474 MW||7 958 MW||10.5%||Nearly five times as much|
|Wind||1 980 MW||11 442 MW||15.1%||Nearly five times as much|
|Biomass/ landfill||499 MW||499 MW||0.7%|
According to the IRP2019, by 2030 South Africa’s coal-based generation will have fallen to 33 847MW from its current 39 126MW, while clean energy such as solar and wind will together make up a quarter of the energy mix.
- Source: Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) Page 95
HOW DOES ENERGY STORAGE CHANGE THE PICTURE?
According to the IRP, over 6 GW of renewable energy has been introduced nationally, yet the power system isn’t flexible enough to make the most of this, nor can it store it.
“The traditional power delivery model is being disrupted by technological developments related to energy storage, and more renewable energy can be harnessed despite the reality that the timing of its production might be during low-demand periods,” the IRP notes.
“Storage technologies including battery systems, compressed air energy storage, flywheel energy storage, hydrogen fuel cells etc. are developments which can address this issue.”