East London community gets micro-grid solar facility

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 22 Jan 2024
Jay Naidoo, CEO of Impower Solar.
Jay Naidoo, CEO of Impower Solar.

Renewable energy provider Impower is lighting up Coral Beach Residential Estate with solar power, after building a battery energy storage system (BESS) facility at the East London residential estate.

According to a statement, the 30-hectare beachside development’s power supply depended on a busy commercial line, which was often vandalised by copper thieves, resulting in frequent, extended power outages, in addition to the regular load-shedding.

To combat the community’s power supply challenges, Impower last year started building the BESS project, which now runs at full tilt by around 8am.

The last few years have seen more local home owners investing in solar energy systems, with the power crisis showing no signs of improvement.

Impower CEO Jay Naidoo says building the project pushed the group to its limits, with multiple challenges encountered along the way.

“The new micro-grid facility is the first of its kind in SA. Many have attempted it before and fallen short, and many more are now in the works. It was a huge challenge to get the project up and running, but together with our partners JA Solar, SolarMD and Schletter Mounting Systems, we successfully implemented this technically-complex project,” Naidoo explains.

Cape Town-headquartered Impower was founded in 2014, and specialises in engineering, procurement and renewable products project management within the solar and energy storage industries.

The BESS facility provides the estate with eight hours of backup power, as well as cost savings that accrue from tapping a cheaper, cleaner energy source, he adds.

Coral Beach Residential Estate.
Coral Beach Residential Estate.

One of the major obstacles to renewable energy adoption in SA is the prohibitive upfront costs, putting it out of reach for the majority of locals.

Impower says it mitigated the high costs through a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) model, allowing the Home Owners’ Association to pay for the power on a pay-as-you-use basis, eliminating the need for any upfront capex investment on their part.

In this model, Impower and its partners are direct investors, with a stake in the project’s success. The model was welcomed by the residents, who didn’t have to pay a cent for the installation or set-up, Naidoo notes.

“We currently match Eskom’s energy cost, but unlike conventional power, our energy costs won’t rise significantly over the years. This means the residents of Coral Beach will enjoy increasing savings on their home energy costs for every year of the 20-year PPA,” says Naidoo.

Gabriel Kroes, Impower head of engineering, weighs in: “We needed to build something future-proof. The newly launched system boasts a solar capacity of 388kW and a Li-ion battery energy storage system with a capacity of 1.5MWh.

“But what sets the Coral Beach facility apart is the unique single axis tracker system. It allows the solar panels to follow the sun's daily arc. That’s how we optimised the energy yield within the limited space we had to work with. This translates into an elegant, efficient system, offering consistent, reliable power for the residents.”