Vodacom shows off its solar rooftop – the largest in Africa

6th March 2013 By: Kim Cloete - Creamer Media Correspondent

Vodacom has unveiled the largest ever array of solar panels on a single building in Africa.

The solar array, on the roof of its Century City building in Cape Town, comprises 2 127 solar panels and is expected to provide up to 75% of all electricity required by the building during peak production.

“Through this particular project, Vodacom aims to demonstrate that business can take the lead in promoting renewable-energy solutions and stimulate the green economy,” Vodacom chief officer of corporate affairs Maya Makanjee said during the unveiling in Cape Town on Tuesday.

The array is expected to offer a potential energy saving of about 895 MWh/y, which is equal to charging more than 70-million mobile phones a year.  

Makanjee said the initiative was part of Vodacom’s ongoing drive to help reduce the amount of energy the company consumes. The company has committed to reducing its carbon emissions within the organisation by 5% a year until 2014.

Vodacom appointed SolarWorld Africa, together with its distribution partner In-Toto Solutions, to supply and install the 542 kWp solar system at is offices.

Each of the 2 127 panels had a 255 Wp output. The solar electricity system, which had pitched and flat roof sections installed over a 3 600 m2 area, used SolarWorld’s roof-integrated Sundeck pitched-roof mounting structure, as well as its Suntub flat-roof mounting structure.

“We are positive that Vodacom will reap the environmental, as well as economic benefits of this sustainable investment over the next 25 to 30 years and more,” said SolarWorld Africa MD Gregor Kuepper.

The rooftop solar project cost R10-million, but Vodacom said it expected to register a cost-saving of at least R1-million a year.

The government’s rebate for renewable-energy projects had been a great help. With increasing competition in the market, solar had become cheaper.

“We see the Vodacom rooftop as a very important ‘lighthouse’ project,” said Kuepper.

While the scale of the energy challenge in South Africa is vast, Makanjee saw huge potential in solar energy for Vodacom, as well as other companies. 

“It’s commercially viable. We’re looking at how we can use technology to assist other organisations achieve their goals in this sphere.” 

The installation of the solar panels held its own challenges. Cape Town’s south-easter wind, known as the Cape Doctor, caused a few delays. Vodacom facilities maintenance manager in the Southern region, Chris de Jongh, said work was stopped in the interests of safety if the wind was gusting over 25 km/h.

Heavy cement tiles on the roof were removed and replaced with roof covering. The cement tiles were donated to a community centre project in Cape Town’s Delft area. 

Vodacom made it a prerequisite for product suppliers to provide training on the technical elements of the installation. A German engineer provided on-the-job training to locals.

While clearly excited about the project, Makanjee said it was disappointing that the City of Cape Town would not connect it to the grid.

“It’s a real pity that the Cape Town municipality is not geared up for us to give them the power. We will do whatever it takes to help them.

Makanjee said Vodacom, together with other companies, needed to lobby the City of Cape Town, both from an infrastructure and policy perspective.

“We have to be persistent. As more companies move into this space, it will be important to get this right.”