From left to right: Sola Future CEO Dr. Dominic Wills, Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa, Robben Island Museum CEO Mava Dada, Deputy Minister of Tourism Elizabeth Thabethe, Robben Island Museum Council Member Laura Robinson, and Director-General of Tourism Victor Tharage. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - Robben Island is set to save R5 million annually with a newly installed solar-powered mini-grid plant.

The plant which was launched on Thursday will be used by the heritage site along with its previously used diesel generators.

The Department of Tourism handed over the plant to Robben Island as part of its mandate to support sustainable tourism and renewable energy.

The island, which was once prison to political leaders, uses almost 2 million kilowatts of electricity each year. The heritage site has an energy usage ranging from residential needs, desalination, harbor and offices.

There are over a hundred residential homes on the island. Currently, there is no access to fresh water on the island, instead water is harvested from the sea and then desalinated.

The R25 million project is expected to save the Island 275 000 litres of diesel annually, while reducing the use of diesel-powered generators by almost 14 to 45 percent.

The PV mini-grid has a backup battery storage which will provide the island with energy during cloudy days and night. This initiative is expected to significantly reduce costs of buying diesel and transporting it to the island, thus saving operational costs.

Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa said the initiative reinforces a shared vision for the future of tourism.

"This project is the first step in a longer term initiative of greening the island and discussions are already underway with the management of Robben Island Museum on the implementation of a range of additional energy efficiency projects," she said.

Robben Island was selected as one of the eight government-owned attractions in the pilot initiative to retrofit heritage sites with solar photovoltaic (PV) energy generating systems. The other seven sites include the Hantam, Karoo Desert, Free State National Botanical Gardens, the Skukuza and Lower Sabie rest camps as well as the Tshokwane and Nkuhlu picnic sites in Kruger National Park.

The department also announced the opening of the first applications window for 2017 Green Tourism Incentive Programme (GTIP).
The government run programme was developed in collaboration with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to drive the implementation of responsible tourism practices and also reduce the cost of doing business for small tourism enterprises.

"This sharp focus is but among some of the activities that truly showcase the government's approach to the empowerment of women and young people. We therefore encourage women cooperatives, youth cooperatives and small enterprise firms to participate in the GTIP processes." she said.