Durban - Durban is forging ahead with radical plans to unshackle itself from its reliance on Eskom for electricity.
With rising electricity costs amid a national energy crisis the eThekwini municipality is embarking on a R10 million solar panel project that aims to use the sun’s energy to power several municipal buildings, including the Moses Mabhida Stadium, the metro police headquarters and uShaka Marine World.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will be installed on nine municipal rooftops and will be able to generate 500kw of power - enough to power more than 200 homes during the day.
A tender for the R10 million project will be advertised next year. The project is aligned to a national plan to encourage metropolises, businesses and residences to shift to renewable energy.
Ethekwini municipal spokeswoman, Tozi Mthethwa said the PV project was initiated through the Durban Solar City Framework that aims to create an “enabling environment” for solar PV installations.
“The primary aim of the project is to provide opportunities for learning about photovoltaic installations for municipal officials and the public and to showcase that eThekwini Municipality is leading by example in applying renewable energy technologies.”
Secondary aims of the project are to reduce the carbon emissions of eThekwini Municipality, generate revenue by reducing electricity purchases from Eskom, and contribute to the stimulation of the local PV market, she said.
Durban residents will be encouraged to switch to solar energy, Mthethwa said adding that the city was developing an online solar map which will allow users to click on their rooftop to gauge how much solar is possible per household.
“Solar and other energy such as wind are part of the city’s broader plans to use cleaner and renewable energy. The climate change strategy for the city is currently being finalised. We anticipate that in the future rooftop solar PV will make up a large portion of this renewable energy mix.”
A long-term plan is to allow homes and businesses that are producing their own energy to sell their excess energy to the municipality by feeding it back into the electricity grid.
While eThekwini municipality was the first to enact a bi-directional tariff that allows energy producers to feed into the grid, the project was not yet off the ground.
Chris Haw, spokesman of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association said that while PV technology had proved cost-effective, it was “not yet the silver bullet” to solve the country’s energy crisis. He said the drawback was that unless a user installs batteries to store energy created, it will be lost.
“Without the storage technology which is not yet financially viable you have to use the electricity you create. But if you have that demand, which would obviously be during the daytime, then it will be very cost-effective,” he said.
He said the PV project would be ideal for municipal buildings, landlords and residences that consume a lot of electricity during the day. Haw said the average home used 3 to 5 kilowatts of energy a day.
“If you look at it in that sense then their (eThekwini municipality) plan to generate around 500 kilowatts of energy is quite a lot and would be quite cost-effective.
“But we need a mix of solutions to provide us with energy at night and during the peak times. Until storage technology becomes financially viable it will only play a supplementary role,” he said.