Cell giant looks to the skies for power

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Vodacom announced that it is fitting its Century City offices with the largest array of solar panels on a single building in Africa. Picture: David Ritchie

A cellphone operator is installing nearly 2 000 mono crystalline solar panels to cover the 3 600m2 roof of its building, in an effort to reduce the amount of Eskom power it consumes.

Vodacom will install the first solar panels at its building at Century City, Cape Town, in the next few weeks and aims to complete the project by August.

Suraya Hamdulay, executive head of corporate citizenship for the company, said the solar array was expected to provide up to 75 percent of all power required by the building during peak hours.

“Our target is to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent, by March 31, 2013, which will translate into an estimated 79 000 tons (of carbon dioxide) saving,” she said.

“The position of the Century City rooftop is perfect for generating a high yield of solar power throughout the year.”

The power produced will feed into the two main distribution boards. A display panel installed in the reception area of the building will display instantaneous power yield, energy yield and carbon emission savings.

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Suraya Hamdulay, Executive Head of Corporate Citizenship at Vodacom and Chris De Jongh of Vodacom's facilities management. Picture: David Ritchie

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The project is a part of Vodacom’s drive to reduce the amount of Eskom electricity it consumes.

“To date we have reduced the energy inputs by 12 percent per base station across the Vodacom Group,” added Hamdulay.

Other energy-saving projects implemented over the past 12 months include a solar-powered base station that supplies a nearby community with excess power, mobile hybrid base station towers that use a combination of solar, wind and fuel cell technology, and free cooling – a system designed to save energy by cooling individual elements of a base station as opposed to the entire facility.

“We are continually on the lookout for new ways of reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions,” says Hamdulay.

Christiaan de Jongh, from Vodacom’s facilities management, said the motivation for the solar energy project was due to electricity being in short supply and its cost continually rising.

“We believe it is crucial to take the lead and relieve the strain on the national electricity grid,” De Jongh said.

He added that three years ago Vodacom had started looking at innovative energy-saving initiatives.

“In that period Vodacom completed various mechanical and electrical plant optimisation projects and the installation of energy-efficient lighting.”

De Jongh said the obstacles the company had encountered included product availability.

“Technical expertise and not being able to find local companies to get involved in the size of the project were some of the other obstacles we faced.

“A space of 3 600m2 of roof space will be covered in 1 961 mono crystalline panels, which are estimated to yield an energy level of 830.1MWh, which can charge more than 70 million smartphones per annum and 200 000 per day.” - Cape Argus

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