Wine grape farmer Stephan van Zyl and solar power company Solairedirect have joined forces in a research project that could help farmers slash their electricity costs. Denene Erasmus reports.
Rapidly rising electricity costs are narrowing farming profit margins and even threatening the survival of some sectors of South Africa’s agricultural industry. The pressure is on for farmers to find ways of slashing their power bills. Orange River grape farmer Stephan van Zyl has taken this to heart. He has partnered with solar power company Solairedirect Southern Africa to build what may be South Africa’s largest photovoltaic (PV) solar system dedicated to pumping water on his farm near Groblershhoop in the Northern Cape.
Solairedirect generates electricity using solar photovoltaic technology such as solar panels.
“The aim is to provide Stephan with enough electricity to power his 30kW pumping station, which pumps significant volumes of water from the river for irrigation,” says Solairedirect managing director Ryan Hammond.
Stephan says the project’s main purpose is to investigate the viability of such a system on irrigation farms.
“Planting new vineyards is a long-term investment and we expect them to be in production for 25 to 30 years,” he says. “One of the factors we have to consider is the cost of the electricity needed for irrigation. In the past 10 years this has increased sixfold and even greater increases are expected.
“At this rate it’s very difficult to work out a budget and cost plan for new vineyards. We need more predictable energy prices to determine whether planting will be viable.
“This is one of the big advantages of Solairedirect’s planned system.” Solairedirect will use the project as a research and development tool to test different types of PV panels, such as thin-film technologies and polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels. Some of these are made by its sister company solairedirect Technologies, in its Cape Town manufacturing facility.
“We’ll record the performance of each of the different panels over the products’ proven 25-year lifespan,” says Ryan. “with continued exposure to the high-temperature environment, which experiences regular summer heat waves of over 40C, we want to monitor the degradation of the panels in the long term.”
The system will take about eight weeks to build and will be functional by July, with a working life of 25 to 30 years.
“Solar power is the ideal answer for the future of the agri-industry’s fight for profitability in the face of ever-rising costs,” Ryan says, “and Solairedirect has the expertise and proven track record to help the industry take advantage of it.”
Contact Solairedirect on 021 953 6000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org