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Microgrid, agriculture repurposing projects initiated for Komati

Image of an agricultural pilot project at Komati

SUSTAINABLE PILOT PROJECT Eskom wants to test the possibility of using a PV plant in combination with agricultural activities

6th May 2022

By: Cameron Mackay

Creamer Media Senior Online Writer

     

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Following socioeconomic impact studies and community engagement, State-owned power utility Eskom has initiated the first three of its repurposing projects for the coal-powered Komati power station, in Mpumalanga.

Eskom just energy transition GM Mandy Rambharos states that the first of these repurposing projects includes the assembly and the fabrication of containerised microgrids at Komati.

“We’ve developed a containerised microgrid solution through our research and development (R&D) using a repurposed shipping container. The solution contains battery packs and inverters, with awnings and solar panels on the outside of the container. We can pack the panels into the container and transport the microgrid to a community that can be electrified.”

Rambharos adds that the required engineering work for this repurposing project has been completed, as the assembly of the microgrids takes place in repurposed warehouses at Komati.

Much of the work required for this assembly involves low-skilled labour – such as spray-painting shipping containers and placing solar panels on the awnings – from the surrounding communities.

Eskom has also received interest from funders, such as the World Bank and the French Development Agency to buy these microgrid solutions, she confirms.

Each microgrid solution container costs up to R1.5-million and can power between 20 and 25 homes.

“Now that we’ve gone to market with this project, the ideal situation is to get a production line going. The more orders we get, the larger the production line can become, and the more people we can employ.”

Agrivoltaic Project

Eskom will shortly go to market with is its 500 kW agrivoltaic project, which involves constructing an agrivoltaic pilot plant at Komati.

The power utility wants to test the possibility of using a solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in combination with agricultural activities.

“We want to build a PV plant on higher frames and gantries so that we can conduct agriculture activities underneath those fames and gantries. We’re piloting this through a partnership with R&D entity the Technology Innovation Agency, which has links with small farmers and agricultural companies,” explains Rambharos.

Eskom will use this project to test innovative agricultural products and crops that will be used and grown underneath solar panels. This would also allow for testing the viability of crops that can be grown on power station land, and if this can be done in collaboration with solar PV generation.

Once the pilot for this project is proven, the utility can build a larger agrivoltaic plant, she adds.

Training Facility

The third repurposing project that Eskom has initiated is a training facility at Komati.

“We’re in discussions with renewable industry associations the South African Wind Energy Association, the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association and the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre on doing artisan training. There are several facilities we can use, so we can set up a facility to train artisans for the renewables industry.”

The training will comprise three- to four-year courses, as those who would be considered for training must have some level of experience as an artisan.

This training will be offered to Eskom employees, as well as members of the community surrounding the power station.

While completion of the training will not guarantee employment at Eskom, Rambharos emphasises that Eskom is partnering with industry associations to assess the sustainability of the employment pipeline in the renewable-energy industry.

Eskom will pilot this training facility and, if successful, can be rolled out to other repurposed power stations in the future.

“These are just some of the repurposing activities we have on the go, but there are others that we are also assessing. We are looking to find an implementing agent to assist us in assessing other projects that would be suitable for the site and surrounding area.”

Community Engagement

Rambharos stresses that these projects were preceded by extensive socioeconomic impact studies and the modelling of economic data on the impact they would have on gross domestic product and jobs.

This was done in addition to site visits, household surveys, face-to-face interviews with the community and business leaders, and community meetings.

“The main concerns were job losses, and a subsequent increase in crime as a result of job losses, as the province already has an unemployment rate of about 34%. People wanted to know how they could be involved in the repurposing and repowering projects – for high- and low-skilled work.”

She notes that while shutting down the coal-powered Komati station would improve the air quality and health of people in the area, much importance was placed on new jobs that would be created.

“For Eskom, we need to drive the renewable-energy value chain, for which we need an energy policy. Manufacturers are happy to open up a production line if there’s certainty about renewable-energy capacity.

“We also have to look at localisation in the eMalahleni municipality and opening up manufacturing in the area, which is why we issued a request for proposals to lease parcels of land in Mpumalanga to independent power producers for the addition of new capacity,” Rambharos concludes.

Edited by Zandile Mavuso
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Features

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