1.2MW Black River Park solar plant feeds power into Cape Town’s electricity grid

The 1.2MW Black River Park Solar Project has broken new ground in becoming the largest integrated PV plant in Africa and the first to legally transmit electricity back into the City of Cape Town’s electrical distribution network.

The 74,000 m2 office park in Observatory, home to in excess of a hundred various companies, is leading the way in sustainable commercial real estate as the solar system forms part of a multi-faceted approach to reducing its carbon footprint and becoming more self-reliant and efficient.

“Black River Park is aiming to become the first choice office park for tenants who are striving to operate businesses that are environmentally aware. The solar installation contributes very significantly towards the many other greening initiatives we have on site, to identify but a few, a car-pooling network, reverse osmosis plant for landscaping irrigation, on-site sorting for recycling,” says Joubert Rabie, developer and co-shareholder in Black River Park.

This is good news for green building thought leaders, the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) who are tenants of the business park. Their tenancy puts into action the green lease – a win win agreement between Black River Park and the GBCSA that has been in place since August 2013. A forward-thinking, environmentally-conscious agreement, the green lease is a shared undertaking between landlord and tenant to ensure the effective running of the building along environmentally friendly principles such as high quality energy efficiency. The BRP has also registered the whole of the North park for the existing building performance rating.

Jarrod Lewin, GBCSA business development manager affirms, “The Black River Office Park was the right choice for us for a number of reasons such as the building being a repurposed old warehouse, meeting our preference for recycled buildings, the mix of amenities in the park reducing staff car journeys, it’s close to public transport nodes, major road networks, the airport and the city centre. Our green lease outlined both tenant and landlord commitments, agreeing to take responsibility for sustainability and environmental matters under our respective control. Green building inspires innovation. Building resource-efficient structures that are environmentally-sustainable and cost-effective challenges project teams and developers to push the boundaries, in the process setting new benchmarks for their peers and taking the green building movement to new levels – Black River Park management and SOLA Future have risen to that challenge.”

The second phase of the project which comprises of a further 500kW of solar power, was approved without any subsidies based on the performance of the initial 700kW which has been operating above expectations since August 2013.

“The approval from the City of Cape Town marks a considerable breakthrough in the pursuit of electricity users who invest in independent power production to sell energy back to the distributors during periods where it is not needed on site,” says Chris Haw, Managing Director of SOLA Future Energy, and Spokesperson for the South African PV Industry Association (SAPVIA).

“This is something that already occurs in most parts of the world and something we’ve been trying to implement in South Africa for years. We’re happy that this policy now applies to all solar projects that meet the City’s embedded generation requirements and we encourage all municipalities to follow suit,” adds Haw.

SOLA Future is a leading solar firm in South Africa responsible for the design, construction and operation of the project as well as the procurement of all regulatory approvals.

The buy-back rate has been proposed at 49.72c/kWh, approximately the same as that at which the City buys electricity from Eskom, but still lower than the rate at which the office park buys electricity from the municipality. This encourages most of the energy generated to be used on site, but caters for situations where the local demand is less than what is produced by the solar system.

By international benchmarks, and also that of local solar IPPs, the buy-back tariff is low. The major obstacle preventing municipalities from encouraging more private generation and trade of electricity is the perceived threat to municipal revenues received from electricity sales.

Sustainability experts, however, advise otherwise.

“What municipalities are beginning to realize is the small amount of lost revenue from allowing solar generation is more than compensated for by the increased economic activity as a result of improved efficiencies and higher attractiveness of the location to do business,” says Prof. Mark Swilling, Academic Director of the Sustainability Institute, Stellenbosch.

The total project size of 1.2MW makes it one of the world’s largest roof mounted solar PV systems, and the largest in Africa, able to generate just under 2 million kWh per year from approximately 5,500 modules. The project has a guaranteed lifetime of 20 years and has minimal operational costs since the primary energy source, the sun, is free.

The system’s over performance is mainly due to higher than expected peak demand savings added to the energy savings. The peak demand for air-conditioning, especially in summer, coincides with hot, clear days when the PV system is operating at capacity.

Apart from the savings generated, the solar system also attracts tenants to the office park that are placing increasing importance on being able to report sustainable business practices to their shareholders.

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