Solar power specialist Energy Partners (EP) Solar has invested in a photovoltaic (PV) solar system to power South African retailer Pick n Pay’s Longmeadow distribution centre, in Modderfontein, Gauteng. The project is currently about 80% complete and will be fully operational by the end of January.
EP Solar CEO Manie de Waal explains that the 2.34 MWp system comprises 7 200 solar modules, 111 km of direct current cables and 14 800 nonpenetrative brackets, and can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3 490 t/y.
He describes the feat of the 16-person team to install a system of this size – likely the largest industrial solar PV installation in South Africa – as “remarkable”, with installation ultimately taking four months to complete.
The Longmeadow system uses Tier 1, internationally approved, third-party-vetted components, all of which have at least a five-year warranty, says De Waal. He notes that the superior quality of the components, combined with EP Solar’s technical knowledge and experience – accumulated through investing, installing and maintaining its own solar PV systems – ensures that the Longmeadow system will operate effectively for the duration of its life. Further, the PV installation is supported by an advanced monitoring system and an asset management team that initiates purposeful maintenance when required.
De Waal explains that the monitoring system comprises numerous dashboards, including an in-house-developed user-friendly client dashboard, which tracks the expected generation based on the designed system, and other parameters.
“We engineered the solar monitoring system based on what a client would typically want to know: Is it operational? Is it producing? Given the weather conditions, what should the system be producing and what is the mix between utility- and solar-based power consumption . . . all monitored on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis?”
He notes that the asset optimisation team’s dashboard is much more technical, monitoring all these characteristics, in addition to monitoring individual inverters and modules, and their performance in relation to each other.
De Waal adds that there is also a team that cleans modules once soiling starts affecting the performance of a module: “We balance cleaning costs with the cost of lost production. In other words, when the cost of lost production matches the cost of cleaning the system, we send a cleaning team to site.”
Pick n Pay national utilities manager Natasha Jansen notes that the installation of this and future solar PV systems forms part of the retailer’s commitment to innovation and sustainability. She adds that the company aims to reduce its energy consumption by 20% per square metre before 2020. Achieving this goal would result in total energy consumption reduction of more than 50% per square metre in 12 years.
Jansen explains that the energy strategy comprises three pillars – behaviour, energy efficient technology and renewable generation. She notes that the company started by asking employees to modify their behaviour – switching off lights or equipment that is not in use – before progressing to installing and implementing energy efficient technologies, specifically in areas of high consumption, such as those that depend heavily on lighting and refrigeration.
Pick n Pay has since progressed to renewable power generation, starting with the solar PV installation at Longmeadow. The retailer has partnered with EP Solar since 2010 and expects the relationship will continue for years to come.
Jansen states that the company’s energy strategy has been “immensely successful”, reducing the retailer’s overall energy to date. De Waal adds that the total potential impact of solar could reduce consumption by an additional 6%.
While reduced consumption has a cost-savings element, the strategy is aimed at ensuring that Pick n Pay exemplifies the ideals associated with good corporate citizens by playing an active role in safeguarding economic, social and environmental sustainability within its host countries, she adds.
De Waal notes that EP Solar was excited to work with Pick n Pay because of the boldness of the retailer in terms of its sustainability commitments: “They have decided that they are going to go as green as they can, and we have been happy to partner with them on this journey.”