Grape farmer goes solar to pump up profits


With rapidly rising electricity costs narrowing farming profitability margins and threatening the survival of some sectors of South Africa’s agricultural industry, farmers are under pressure to investigate ways of slashing their power supply bills.

Orange River grape farmer Stephan van Zyl has partnered with turnkey solar power provider Solairedirect Southern Africa to build what is possibly South Africa’s largest ground based solar system dedicated to pumping water, on his farm near Groblershoop in the Northern Cape.

“The aim is to provide Stephan with enough electricity to power his 30 kilowatt water pump station, which pumps significant volumes of water from the river for irrigation purposes,” says Solairedirect managing director, Ryan Hammond.

At the same time, Solairedirect will use the project as a research and development tool to test different types of solar panels such as thin film technologies, polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels, some of which are made by their sister company, Solairedirect Technologies, in their Cape Town manufacturing facility.

“We will record the actual performance of each of the different panels over the proven 25 year lifespan of the products. With continued exposure to the high temperature environment, with regular summer heat waves of over 40 degrees Celsius, we want to monitor the degradation of the panels in the long term. This is part of our constant drive to improve efficiency of our products and systems,” Hammond says.

The system, which will take about eight weeks to build, will be functional in July. Over the 25 to 30 year working life of the system Van Zyl, a director of Orange River Wine Cellars, will realise a significant saving.

A number of farmers and Agri-businesses are in talks with Solairedirect about using solar power systems to lower costs associated with heating, cooling or pumping water.

“Solar power is the ideal answer for the future of the agri-industry’s fight for profitability in the face of ever-rising costs,” Hammond says “and Solairedirect has the expertise and proven track record to help the industry take advantage’’.