South Africa’s George Airport has become the first in the country to be partly powered by solar energy as part of plans to expand investments in renewables, the government has announced.
Environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa minister said the launch of the “first solar-powered airport on the African continent” would lead to similar projects at other airports in the country.
George Airport, which lies halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s ‘Garden Route’, aims to generate around 40% of its electricity needs from solar power during the first phase of the project, Molewa said.
According to Molewa, 750 kilowatts of electricity will be generated from the 200 square metre solar plant during the first phase of the project, which she said would be sufficient to meet the daily needs of the airport which serves more than 600,000 passengers annually.
“Investment such as at George Airport must give momentum to other private and public sector entities to reconfigure and retrofit their existing infrastructure in support of more sustainable energy consumption patterns,” Molewa said.
Airport manager Brenda Vorster told iafrica.com: “It’s a stepping stone. At night we go on to the grid, but during the day we are on green.”
Any surplus electricity generated by the airport’s solar plant “will likely be sold” to South Africa’s national utility Eskom, according to the region’s Eden District Municipality.
Work on the solar project began last March and took six months to build at a reported cost of 16 million rand (ZAR) ($1m). The chairman of the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) Skhumbuzo Macozoma said ACSA planned to extend renewable power generation to all of its airports under its 2025-2030 blueprint towards achieving carbon neutrality in energy consumption.
Macozoma said: “Harnessing solar power is a viable cleaner energy source which contributes towards diversifying the energy mix. This plant will ensure that the airport is self-sustaining in terms of its power needs and will eventually extend to the broader community within the George municipality.”
South Africa’s finance minister Pravin Gordhan said in his 2016 budget, presented to parliament last month, that the government proposed investing a total of 870 billion rand (ZAR) ($55bn) in a public sector infrastructure programme over the next three years covering sectors including energy, transport, health and education.
Pravin said the government planned to “build on the success” of projects under its existing renewable energy investment scheme and would extend itsindependent power producer procurement programme “to include coal and gas power projects”.
Four large scale solar plants went online in South Africa in the first-half of 2014. A study published in 2015 by the South African government-owned Council for Scientific and Industrial Research said renewable energy from South Africa’s first wind and solar plants generated a “net financial benefit” of around $702,000 for the country in 2014.
Last June, energy minister Tina Joemat-Petterson said 13 preferred bidders had been selected under the national renewable energy programme to work on projects “tipped to supply an additional 1,084 megawatts of electricity to the national grid”.