US automotive manufacturer Tesla’s South African partner Rubicon Group and JSE-listed Growthpoint Properties have joined forces to highlight the environmental advantages of making use of renewable energy to provide some of the power requirements of buildings, such as Growthpoint’s 144 Oxford, in Rosebank.
Sustainable technology company Rubicon Group brought the first Tesla Model X Performance Edition all-electric sports utility vehicle (SUV) into the country to raise renewable energy’s profile in the country, a move which the companies believe to be indicative that the combination of a high-performance car and highly-efficient green buildings “is powering greater awareness of positive ecological change”.
Considering that electric cars rely on charging from the local electricity network and that South Africa’s electricity is still largely produced from coal, the country’s fossil-fuel-dependent power grid is not yet equipped to provide for the charging of electric vehicles (EVs) using clean power sources.
Further, while renewable energy generation capacity is expanding, power utility Eskom’s coal-fired generation fleet remains constrained, with regular interruptions to electricity supply.
Growthpoint’s 144 Oxford building has a 180 kW rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) plant installed.
The solar PV system supplies about 20% of the building’s energy requirements and was installed above an insulated panel system, which is a lightweight roofing system that required a specific support system in order to attach it to the building, Growthpoint sustainability and utilities head Grahame Cruickshanks told Engineering News during a site visit on October 28.
In the building’s case, the blending of the solar-powered green building and the Tesla Model X all-electric vehicle produces the best possible environmental outcomes – no carbon dioxide emissions, improving urban air quality, moving away from non-renewable fossil-fuel power and shrinking carbon footprints.
“Our innovative collaboration with Rubicon’s Tesla Model X at 144 Oxford demonstrates that buildings are where the rubber hits the road on the journey to carbon emissions reductions. It highlights the direct impacts that a building’s power source can have on reducing carbon emissions and leaves no doubt that green energy and green building are the future,” said Cruickshanks.
“With the increasing threat of climate change [owing] to the emission of greenhouse gases, it's necessary to explore greener solutions, such as moving to electric vehicles which are, on balance, better for the environment,” he elaborated.
He added that, by providing EV charging stations at buildings in Growthpoint’s portfolio, where there is demand, particularly its shopping centres, and ensuring that buildings such as 144 Oxford are future-proofed for charging stations, “Growthpoint is meeting the mounting demand for EV charging in South Africa”.
In many instances, it is making it possible for more people to plug into a greener grid thanks to solar power in a growing number of our buildings, which Cruickshanks said “also creates awareness about and demand for alternative and environment-friendly transport”.
Cruickshanks acknowledged that EVs were “very much a part of the future transport scenario in South Africa and the rest of the world”.
However, considering electricity bought from Eskom and municipalities to service its buildings counts towards its emissions, Growthpoint’s leadership have committed to a Carbon Neutral 2050 target.
Growthpoint CEO Estienne de Klerk on October 28 said environmental sustainability is at the core of the business and that Growthpoint has “been at the forefront of the movement towards greener buildings and has built a reputation as a leader and innovator in this space”.
“Protecting the natural environment is a critical component of our clearly defined environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) strategy, which influences our performance for all our stakeholders. We want to do better in this regard and have set targets for all Growthpoint’s corporate offices to operate at net-zero carbon by 2030,” he elaborated.
The property group also expects several of its portfolio buildings to achieve net-zero carbon by this time, as the company is already working towards having all Growthpoint buildings achieve the target by 2050.
To meet this target, Growthpoint is driving two key strategic initiatives.
Firstly, it is reducing the energy consumption and associated emissions of its buildings by ensuring they are energy efficient and having this externally certified. It is also introducing additional renewable energy to its property portfolio by installing more solar plants at its buildings.
The newly developed 144 Oxford exemplifies Growthpoint’s green building commitment and has achieved a Five Star SA Green Rating by the Green Building Council of South Africa.
All green certified buildings are energy efficient, and its rooftop solar installation made a significant contribution towards its rating.
The building has also been chosen by Growthpoint to pursue net-zero carbon building certification.
As part of its environmental commitment, Growthpoint has long invested in renewable energy and it plans to grow that investment.
“The energy and e-mobility divisions are exciting and dynamic segments of our business,” added Rubicon director of Energy & E-Mobility Greg Blandford.
He added that Rubicon’s focus was to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources.
Growthpoint’s ongoing investment in green energy and green buildings will continue to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, creating energy and water efficiency and cost savings, extending the lifecycle of assets, lowering tenant costs and ensuring continuity of power supply to its buildings.
For the South African real estate investment trusts, solar power is an exciting opportunity and a strong business case with an average return on investment of four to five years.
By 2020, Growthpoint had already installed 7.5 MW of renewable energy across its portfolio as it accelerates its steps to reduce carbon emissions on its journey to carbon neutrality.
Growthpoint is confident it will attain 20 MW of solar power by the end of 2022, which it intends to increase to 46 MW by 2026.
The announcement that companies can now invest in distributed generation plants of up to 100 MW without the need for a generation licence from the national regulator has further fuelled Growthpoint’s enthusiasm for renewable energy, adding financial viability to its Carbon Neutral 2050 commitment.