French company Bertin Energie Environnement (also known, in English, as Bertin Energy & Environment), part of the CNIM group, has launched a study into options for the energy supply for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) core site in South Africa. This study is receiving financial support from the French government’s Fonds d’études et d’aide au secteur privé (Private Sector Studies and Assistance Fund, better known as Fasep).
This study is the result of an initiative by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Centre for Scientific Research) and the House of SKA France (which is the French agency responsible for the country’s involvement in, and contribution to, the SKA). South Africa will host Phase 1 of the SKA-MID element of the international radio astronomy project (the other element, SKA-LOW, will be hosted by Australia; the suffixes MID and LOW indicate the frequency ranges within which the two elements will operate).
When complete, SKA-MID Phase 1 will comprise the 64 dishes of South Africa’s own MeerKAT radio telescope array, plus another 133 parabolic dish antennas built specifically for the SKA. The power demand by the complete array is estimated at 5 MW. Although the local electricity grid is capable of supporting MeerKAT, it is not adapted to support the complete SKA-MID instrument. And it uses fossil fuels to generate its electricity.
SKA-MID Phase 1 is expected to be operational by 2028. The Bertin study is seeking to establish power options for it that are suitable for South Africa, and also environment-friendly, safe and sustainable in the long term.
The aim is to use technological innovations, some of them developed in France, to provide an electricity supply that is technically and economically credible but which does not rely on fossil fuels. Under consideration are solar energy (both thermodynamic and photovoltaic), wind energy, biomass, hydrogen and hydropower. In addition, the effect on the environment of the various energy production and storage technologies is also being examined.
The company is giving special attention to a solution involving solar energy technologies integrated with trackers. This would “reduce network extraction in a centralised configuration, that is, with a distribution network providing [power to] all the buildings and antennas,” explained the company. Also to be studied will be the balancing of photovoltaic energy production with daily storage.
“Bertin is also interested in the possibility of independently feeding the antennas furthest from the centre, in order to avoid the costs and losses associated with the distribution network,” it reported. “It will then be necessary to dimension many mini photovoltaic networks with short (battery) and long-term storage … for balancing.”
Several French companies form part of a network of companies that have an interest in the project. In addition, the most appropriate financing model for the energy supply project is currently being studied.