Solar PV system could save this no-fees school up to R20 000 a year | Fin24

Cloetesville Primary school has received a 7.5 kW solar PV system.

A new solar PV system installed at Cloetesville Primary School in Stellenbosch could save it up to R20 000 per year.The 7.5kW system will help the school reduce its carbon emissions by almost 13 tons annually.The solar PV project follows an energy efficiency initiative that saw the school achieve an A rating for electricity consumption.Get the biggest business stories emailed to you every weekday or go to the Fin24 front page.

A new solar PV system installed at Cloetesville Primary School in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, could potentially save it R15 000 in electricity costs.

The solar PV system, which was handed over to the school on Friday, is funded by Stellenbosch University’s social impact committee. Rhenish Primary School, also located in Stellenbosch, donated some of the solar panels. It is a collaborative project by the university, the Western Cape Education Department, and energy efficiency startup GreenX.

The project follows an energy efficiency initiative that was rolled out at the school as part of Jason Samuels’ PhD research. Samuels is also a co-founder of GreenX.

Cloetesville Primary is a no-fees school. It is one of 25 no-fee and low-fee schools across Paarl and Stellenbosch, where the university’s social impact department and the faculty of engineering ran a campaign to drive energy efficiency to reduce their electricity bills. Data was collected on electricity consumption using smart meters. These informed energy efficiency interventions, such as LED lighting. The schools’ energy bills were reduced by between 21% and 39%. 

READ | How schools can cut their power bills, with smart metering and LED lighting

Through these interventions, Cloetesville Primary also became the first school to obtain an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – an indication of its energy efficiency. Cloetesville Primary received an A rating for electricity consumption.

Part of Samuels’ research also looked into the potential benefits of alternative energy sources such as solar PV systems at schools to reduce electricity costs. Samuels said that Cloetesville Primary was the site for the solar PV installation because the previous steps – understanding the energy usage and introducing energy efficiencies – had already been implemented.

Samuels said:

“We had a smart meter installed. We could implement efficiency interventions at the school to lower their base usage. And we have an EPC at the school, and now we have an optimised solar PV system…”

The system is relatively small – with a peaking capacity of 7.5 kilowatts (kW), when the school’s energy needs peak at around 12kW. Stellenbosch University Social Impact division wants the system to be increased to 10 kW, Samuels said.

The school is still grid-tied and can rely on power from the municipality. This is seamlessly enabled through the inverter – which draws from the solar PV system, and can switch to the grid when needed, explained Samuels.

It is estimated that R15 000 will be saved on electricity costs from the grid as the school will use 14 MWh less from the grid per year. The system will also help Cloetesville Primary reduce its carbon emissions by almost 13 tons annually.

Stellenbosch University’s Social Impact division wants to expand the system to 10 kW.

Supplied Stellenbosch University

Constrained funds have prevented more panels being installed on rooftops. Excluding VAT, the whole project – such as the system infrastructure which includes solar PV panels, an inverter and smart metering, as well as project management and structural tests on the rooftops, cost R150 000.

Among some of the biggest challenges in getting the solar PV system up and running was a lag in getting approvals from the municipality and finance. “If we had an unlimited amount of money, we could have done this quicker,” Samuels said. 

Samuels said that investors are willing to back solar PV, but they need to know there are off-take agreements ensuring that someone will be using the power, and a commitment from schools to install solar at scale.

There is still a lot of rooftop space for solar PV panels to be installed.

Supplied Stellenbosch University

“I want to prove that we can actually have a solar system that works [to power the school],” he said. Secondly, Samuels wants to show that schools could actually help solve the national energy crisis if they act as independent power producers. “The potential is there for schools to act as power producers and serve communities in a revolutionary way,” he said.

Samuels is hopeful that the school – through a feed-in-tariff system and the lifting of the licence exemption for generation projects announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure energy security – could potentially supply power to the Stellenbosch municipality. This could see the school save an additional R5 000 on electricity costs when it is not using electricity and feeding to the grid instead.

At the handover, deputy director-general of the Western Cape Education Department Salie Abrahams said that schools could take a “broader role” in communities, providing services that can “rejuvenate” them.

“With this creative project, we see how schools can both help to address the national energy crisis and improve the resilience and general wellbeing of the local community of Cloetesville. We now need to find a way to develop a scalable model where we can roll this out to more schools so that more communities can benefit from this innovation,” said Abrahams.

Samuels echoed views that the goal is to roll out solar PV systems at other schools and to do so at scale.

Author: systems