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George on track with proactive response to Energy Crisis in South Africa

Photo 1 – 1MW Solar Plant – From left Daniel Greeff (Acting Director of Electrotechnical Services), Cllr Nosicelo Mbete (Portfolio Councillor for Electrotechnical Services and Fleet Management), Alderman Leon van Wyk (Executive Mayor of George) and Dr Michele Gratz (Municipal Manager)


Photo 2Gwaiing WWTW 500kWp – From left: Alderman Leon van Wyk (Executive Mayor of George), Dr Michele Gratz (Municipal Manager), Daniel Greeff (Acting Director of Electrotechnical Services), Cllr Nosicelo Mbete (Portfolio Councillor for Electrotechnical Services and Fleet Management), Thabo Yiga (Project Manager: Electrotechnical Services and Edward Pienaar (Electrical Engineer at RWK Engineering).

In response to South Africa’s energy crisis, George Municipality is taking proactive steps by implementing photovoltaic (PV) plants, endorsed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), as the most feasible solution. The Municipality aims to further enhance energy resilience and reduce demand through ongoing initiatives.

Alderman Leon van Wyk, the Executive Mayor of George, late last year addressed the Western Cape Premier Alan Windi’s Digicon which focuses on energy, and provided insights into the progressive approach George Municipality is taking in its renewable energy initiatives. “In the initial phase of our renewable energy efforts,” Mayor Van Wyk said, “we are completing our 1-megawatt (MW) Solar PV Plant and a 500 kW Solar PV Plant for the Gwaiing Wastewater Treatment Works.”

He outlined the upcoming phases, saying, “Our next endeavour is a 12-megawatt Solar PV Installation, requiring the addition of a 20MVA substation. Technical aspects are being addressed to align with our commitment to sustainable energy solutions.”

The George Municipality has so far installed or is in the process of installing the following PV plants in George:
• 400-kilowatt peak (kWp) PV at the Outeniqua wastewater treatment facility was energized on 30 August 2023. Converting the electricity generated to a Rand value shows that George Municipality will be saving just over R1m per year with this plant. It consists of more than 700 PV panels. 8 x 50kW inverters are installed at various locations on the site. The plant can generate in the order of 680 MWh annually. The cost for this plant was R7.8m (VAT Inclusive), including a 24-month Operation and Maintenance period.

• 500 kWp at the PV Gwaiing Wastewater treatment facility is estimated to be completed in April 2024 and will provide a saving of over R1.4m per year. The plant will consist of approximately 910 PV Panels & 5 x 100kW inverters at a total cost of around R8.7m (Inclusive of VAT), including a 24-month Operation and Maintenance period. The plant is expected to generate in the order of 870 MWh per year.

• A solar system of 20 kilo watts peak (kWp) with a 30 kVA hybrid inverter and a 60-kilo watt hour (kWh) battery energy storage has been installed and commissioned at the Electrotechnical Services building. The system comprises of 38 solar panels. The building houses the critical control centre which handles the load management for the town, as well as the remote switching of the network, this system is further integrated to a diesel generator, which is required as further back-up, to ensure that the Control Centre remains fully powered 24/7. The battery technology for both sites is lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) with an average lifespan of 15 years. The projects are co-funded by the Department of Mineral Resources & Energy and the George Municipality.

• A solar system of 3 kilowatts peak with a 5 kVA hybrid inverter and a 10-kilowatt hour (kWh) battery storage has been installed and commissioned at the Blanco Drive-through Motor Vehicle Licence Renewal offices. This system comprises of 6 panels, each with a rating of 500 watts. The solar panels are set to prioritise charging the battery first, and when its full, the panels supply electricity to the building.

• 4 kWp PV + 10 kWh battery storage for the Tourism building operational since August 2023. A solar system comprising of 4 kilowatts peak panels, an 8 kVA hybrid inverter and a 10-kilowatt hour (kWh) was commissioned at the Tourism building. This included a four-vehicle carport structure (which provided shaded parking) on which the panels are mounted.
• 1 MWp solar farm (ERF464 – Municipal land). Converting the electricity generated to a Rand value shows that George Municipality will be saving just over R2.72m per year with this project. The 1 MWp PV Plant is estimated to be completed in March / April 2024 depending on the delivery of the special transformers that were ordered for this project. The plant will consist of approximately 1700 PV Panels & 10 x 110kW inverters at a total cost of around R25m and is expected to generate in the order of 1700 MWh per year. George uses at peak times up to 85MVA. This 1MWp PV Plant is the first phase of Solar PV plants for George that will feed directly into the Municipal grid. The Solar plants being installed in George will provide own generation and reduce Eskom energy consumption. This will also serve as large-scale generation to keep future dispatchable Battery Energy Storage Systems charged and will assist us in achieving our goal of reducing internal electricity costs and increasing sustainability.

• A 300-kilowatt peak (kWp) PV has been installed at the Main Municipal buildings in York Street and commissioned in September 2021. It comprises of 692 panels with five 50 kVA grid tied inverters. It’s purpose s to supply power to the Civic centre building, and export excess to the grid to supply nearby houses. The panels were mounted on carport structures and provides shaded parking to at least 50 vehicles. The cost of the project was R7,4 million (inclusive of VAT), and a 24-month Operation and Maintenance period.

What is next for George Municipality’s energy space?
The environmental authorisation process for the 12MWp PV planned in the industrial area near the N2 is nearing completion. The designs are in the final stages and the procurement process will be completed early in 2024. This plant would cover an area of approximately 10ha and may take up to 18 months to complete due to the complex grid connection which includes a 20MVA 11/66kV Substation. The estimated budget is in the order of R230 million. The municipality is also busy with the final stages of the procurement process for 3 x 1MW BESS installations at the 2 WWTW sites and at the Municipal main building. This would assist with reduction in the diesel costs for generators at the various installations.

Due to funding and process constraints, the Municipality has decided to proceed with the inception, concept and viability stages of various specific projects. This would then pave the road for project implementation.
These include a large scale Solar Farm, utility-scale Batteries, possible Wind Turbines, Hydro Generation and Hydrogen Gas Turbines. George Municipality has appointed specialists for the study and it is expected to be concluded before the end of this financial year and will provide an implementation plan based on the various technologies.

Future projects and funding
There are plans for an additional 30 MW Solar PV and a 100MWh Battery Energy Storage System (BES) to address load-shedding challenges and enhance energy resilience. However, funding remains a challenge and applications have been made to National Treasury for support through the Budget Facility for Infrastructure, unfortunately not approved due to current financial constraints. Alternatives being explored include sector funding, potentially through an Independent Power Producer (IPP) model.
The current Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) restrictions pose challenges in implementing long-term contracts of more than three years needed for such projects. Ongoing collaboration with Provincial Treasury and Western Cape Provincial Government aims to explore amendments to the MFMA, facilitating the realization of large-scale electricity provision projects. George Municipality remains committed to finding sustainable solutions to the current electricity crisis, contributing to both local and national energy resilience.

What has George Municipality implemented to assist residents during loadshedding?
Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units at a cost of approximately R3.6 million have been installed at 57 of the main traffic intersections. These units, which are eco-friendly and energy-saving, automatically kick in and operate the traffic lights should the electricity supply be interrupted for any reason for at least 2- 4 hours, before the battery needs recharging.

The municipality has also expanded its solar power initiative for traffic lights, marking the successful installation of solar panels at eight (8) intersections in Pacaltsdorp. This comes on the heels of the initial pilot project in Knysna Road and the Witfontein Road intersection in Blanco. The solar panels are designed to charge batteries and supply excess energy to power traffic lights, contributing to sustainability and reducing the municipality’s carbon footprint. This initiative aligns with George Municipality’s commitment to green processes and resource efficiency.

George Municipality has also out of necessity, installed large generators at a number of our pump stations, sewer pump stations, various Water Treatment Works and Garden Route Dam, to keep water flowing and sewerage pump stations operational during loadshedding. All of the George municipal buildings have had energy-efficient lights installed, as well as over 111 energy-efficient air conditioners.

Over the past few years, a total of 5583 streetlights (Compact Fluorescent Lamps, High-Pressure Sodium and Mercury Vapour) have been replaced by light-emitting diodes (LED) at a cost of R14 501 513 (Municipal and EEDSM Funding). This phased-in approach will continue until we have replaced or retrofitted all streetlights to LED in the upcoming financial years. Not only do the LEDs reduce the amount of energy used, but they also have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance. The funding for this project is mostly sourced from the Energy Efficiency Demand Side Management program (EEDSM) managed by the Department of Mineral & Energy (DMRE).