To improve the sustainability of tourism in South Africa, the Department of Tourism has included renewable-energy technology in the retrofitting of key tourist attractions and State-owned destinations in the pilot phase of a Tourism Incentive Programme (TIP), which will be carried out over the next three years.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom announced during his Budget speech in March that Robben Island, one of the world’s top tourist attractions, would soon generate its power from renewable-energy sources.
The island will be a pilot site for the Department of Tourism’s roll-out of renewable energy retrofitment to botanical gardens, South African National Parks (SANParks) facilities and World Heritage Sites in the country, he said, adding that the installation of renewable-energy sources such as solar power on the island would take place during the current financial year.
“The exciting part of the retrofitting programme is that it contributes towards our countrywide effort to reduce electricity demand and to start shifting towards efficient energy use and renewable-energy use.
“It will also include some of our community-based projects, particularly those that don’t have immediate access to the grid,” Hanekom stated.
The retrofitting programme is part of the R180-million TIP to advance the tourism industry sector’s competitiveness and transformation, and support enterprises and develop tourism attractions. Part of the programme will entail the department assessing the needs of these establishments and then installing renewable-energy systems such as photovoltaic panels (PV).
Department of Tourism chief director of the tourism incentives programme Bernhard Meyer tells Engineering News that the Robben Island project is one of a number of pilot sites and that the broader tourism incentive programme also entails market access, tourism grading and enhancing iconic destinations and attractions.
He states that Robben Island is not on the national electricity grid, but that it uses expensive diesel generation sets that burn “thousands of litres of diesel each month to keep the island running” and it does not generate clean energy, therefore constituting a number of environmental risks.
The energy retrofitment programme will result in renewable-energy systems being installed on the island, depending on the outcome of assessments that will be carried out this financial year, Meyer adds.
He notes that the retrofitment programme is a starting point for the tourism sector to convert to using renewable energy to create greener tourism destinations, adding that South Africa is recognised as one of the foremost countries in the world in terms of responsible tourism practices.
Meyer cites that the retrofitting programme will reduce the input cost for tourism operations and that, ultimately, the Department of Tourism wants to roll out the retrofitment programme to the private sector to create a subsidy programme to encourage people to shift to using renewables.
“The budget for the pilot phase of the retrofitment programme will be about R60-million. The idea is to test it at government facilities and then, depending on the outcome, ramp it up.”
Meyer adds that, if the pilot phase can be implemented correctly on a small scale “and it works well”, it can be comfortably expanded.
Meyer adds that there will be a bidding process for the manufacturing and installation of renewables, and government standard procedures will be followed.
A request for information for local renewables manufacturers was put out in July.
“We want to embark on a procurement process for the pilot phase. We don’t have the technical expertise and are looking for technical advisers,” he says.
He notes that there is a strong emphasis on local content and the green economy with regard to this project.
“If we can link our tourism retrofitment to the green economy, we can integrate as much local content as possible in the various renewable-energy installations,” states Meyer.
Tourism Contributing to Growth
During his Budget speech, the Minister said tourism had contributed 9.4% to the country’s gross domestic product over the past year and that the sector’s value chain currently supported one in every ten jobs in South Africa.
“Growth in international tourist arrivals was recorded at 6.6% from 2013 to 2014,” he noted, adding that 9.5-million tourists visited South Africa last year.
“The Department of Tourism will leverage the 2015/16 budget of R1.8 billion to create job opportunities and implement programmes that will take the sector forward in an inclusive and sustainable manner.”
Hanekom added that the department had set an ambitious target of attracting 12-million international tourist arrivals by 2017/18 and increasing the figure for domestic holidaymakers from 2.8 million in 2014 to 4.1 million by 2020.
“With this level of growth, the department was on track to achieve the National Development Plan’s target of creating 225 000 jobs within the sector by 2020.
“About 54% of the budget will be allocated to tourism for international and domestic marketing, with R100-million having been ringfenced for domestic marketing this year,” he elaborated.
Minister Hanekom noted that the department was in discussions with the Industrial Development Corporation regarding funding and with the Department of Science and Technology and academic institutions on the possible use of locally developed renewable-energy technology.
Speaking to Engineering News earlier this year, he said this part of the programme would reduce the operating costs of establishments, make them more environmentally sustainable and reduce their vulnerability to load-shedding.
“With the pressure on the national electricity grid and the critical requirement for energy security in tourism operations, there is an urgent need for the tourism sector to adopt more energy efficient solutions,” Hanekom said.
He added that knowledge from the Robben Island pilot project would guide the design of a programme with specific applications for tourism establishments in the private sector, starting in 2016.
“In the next year, we will fine-tune the subsidy formula. However, the shift towards solar energy provision makes technological sense,” Hanekom noted.
Meanwhile, Meyer cites some considerations of the pilot programme, noting that Robben Island will need a mini grid of about 500 kW PV to cover the island’s electricity needs. A 280 kW PV mini grid, which could cover peak demand at, for example, a SANParks visitor camp, would save the organisation close to R1-million a year in energy costs.
“Further, a 10 kW PV system could save a 15-room guesthouse more than R5 000 a month in energy costs, while a 250-room hotel could save more than R50 000 a month through the installation of a 65 kW PV system,” he concludes.