When SOLA found out that they had won the contract to build a solar PV microgrid on Robben Island, commissioned by the National Department of Tourism, they were determined to spread the story of the project far and wide. With the help of video-experts Lima Bean, they created a short film that tells the story of Robben Island’s transformation.
A perfect set for a transformation story
Robben Island is known for many things, but particularly for being world heritage site on the tip of South Africa, and “a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity”. It is also known for its beautiful, stark scenery and ecological diversity. Yet the island still requires energy – the ongoing tourism, desalination plant, and local community use 2 million kWh per year. This power was historically supplied only by diesel generators, but since July 2017, is being supplied by the sun. It is the perfect setting for a story of transformation and hope.
A symbolic transformation
“We wanted to show that Robben Island is a great example of how a difficult historical context does not prevent a brighter future,” said James Bisset, the short film’s director. A key component to the symbolic side of the story was the input from Vusumzi Mcongo, an ex-political prisoner who arrived on Robben Island in 1978. Now 63 years old, Mr Mcongo still lives on Robben Island, and works in the Robben Island Museum, taking tours through the prison. “I have a passion for this place,” he states.
As someone who not only works, but also lives on the island, Mr Mcongo is part of the new energy story: he is part of Robben Island’s transformation from old power to the new, and will benefit from the new system. Robben Island has a difficult history – one of banishment and imprisonment – but, like Mr Mcongo, the future of the island is one of hope rather than pain.
“Telling the story of the Robben Island Microgrid was very important to us,” SOLA CEO Dom Wills stated. “The transformation of Robben Island is symbolic: it shows that there is hope and inspiration for South Africa and potential for innovation in the future. We want South Africa and the region to see that affordable, clean energy is here today.”
Solar PV and batteries: the future of energy
The Robben Island solar PV microgrid is a story of hope because of the technological innovation at its core. Solar energy uses the sun’s power to create electricity. Traditionally, solar PV works during the day and requires additional power sources at night, when the sun doesn’t shine. However, with the strides in battery technology over the last few years, battery storage has huge potential to change the game and make solar a viable option for going completely off-grid.
The Robben Island solar microgrid is an example of such a game-changer. The generators on the island historically used an expensive and fossil resource, diesel, which was shipped to the island in order to generate the electricity required. The new solar microgrid stores the excess energy created by the sun in the middle of the day in lithium ion batteries, powering the island well into the night. By the time the generators kick in, the consumption of the energy is low, and ultimately Robben Island can significantly reduce its reliance on diesel, even during the winter months.
Partnerships make the video possible
Suppliers to the project partnered with SOLA and Lima Bean to make the creation of the video story possible. ABB, the inverter supplier to the project, and Canadian Solar, who supplied the solar modules, were both key partners in enabling the video to take place. “Making a video like this is not cheap, and we were grateful for the support of our partners to make the video possible,” said Dom Wills.