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Award-winning Omnivat to roll out pilots of containerised electricity generation and storage system

10th June 2024

By: Tracy Hancock

Creamer Media Contributing Editor

     

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Renewable energy technology company Omnivat Tech, the creator of an award-winning containerised electricity generation and storage system, aims to deploy three in-field pilot plants in the coming months. The company intends to trial different use cases, including health facility support, backup power and community-owned models. 

“We are a pan-African team with a pan-African vision. We will deploy our initial systems in South Africa and will be developing a pipeline across sub-Saharan Africa. We are open to public- and private-sector customers and intend to collaborate with both to meet the needs of communities, facilities and businesses,” says Omnivat.

The entire system fits into a 6 m recycled shipping container, which consists of 30 kWp of solar panels, second-life electric vehicle batteries, a reverse osmosis and ozone treatment system, an electrolyser and a hydrogen fuel cell.  

Omnivat’s system, which has the capacity to generate 60 kWh of green baseload power and store energy for three days, was developed to meet the need for reliable, sustainable, clean energy, as well as backup power where the grid is unreliable or constrained. 

Notably, owing to the scale of Africa’s energy challenge, the system, particularly its software, has been designed to allow for multiple microgrids in proximity to share and redirect power.

“This is an opportunity we really want to leverage in the coming months. In addition, for the same price point, we provide not only energy, but also unlock productive uses – like purifying water and providing refrigeration,” the company highlights.

In addition to addressing the continent’s poor water infrastructure, the containerised system is WiFi enriched to enable virtual reality support for remote communities where technical skills are lacking. However, the system is low maintenance, comprises few moving parts and includes two years of operation and maintenance support. 

Consequently, the company was named the runner-up of the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy in May and intends to use the R4.5-million to build its capacity.

“We are so thrilled and so honoured to be winners in this amazing competition. This experience has been life-changing in so many ways. We are also really excited to have this funding to be able to start implementing and to continue innovating. 

“We have already received such incredible feedback from key stakeholders in the energy ecosystem, and we’ve seen that this global acknowledgement has given people confidence in our capabilities and the merit of our products,” says Omnivat.

The company was inspired to develop its containerised systems to assist the millions of African people living in energy poverty, facing water scarcity and on the wrong end of a growing digital divide.

While development in Africa is critical for economic growth and social upliftment, it is important that a green development trajectory is pursued for the sake of the planet as well as for future generations, explains Omnivat.

The company physically developed the full system, including its own software, between November 2023 and February 2024, when Omnivat showcased its first full-scale pilot plant at Stellenbosch University.

A year before, all the company had was a detailed concept backed by ten years of geographic information system-simulated weather data.

“Thanks to the Milken-Motsepe prize, we were able to develop our detailed designs, and rapidly prototype a successful small-scale (2 kWp, 8 kWh) unit, which helped us to secure additional funding to develop our full-scale pilot plant.” 

While Omnivat had multiple South African suppliers, most of the products it procured were imported, highlighting a significant need to build out these value chains locally. 

“Given the tight timelines for the competition, we had to hit the ground running. We had to make very quick procurement decisions and ended up sourcing the electrolyser and fuel cell from Europe. But we would like to build local partnerships as we scale up,” advises the company.

Omnivat admits that imports were a challenge, considering the tight deadline, especially for a small entity venturing into the nascent hydrogen economy.

“One of the ways we dealt with this was by remaining in very close communication with all our suppliers and service providers, building relationships wherever we could. When time is a challenge, the “speed of trust” really becomes a factor, and our 17 years of friendship and our combined 50 plus years of professional expertise really pulled us through.” 

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