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NELSON Mandela University’s South Campus will soon be producing just over 10% of its electricity requirements, thanks to an innovative R18-million green power plant, which is being established on the campus this month (July).

The installation of the two-hectare solar photovoltaics (PV) power plant, which will produce 1740 MWh of electricity per year and has a 20-year lifespan, will begin in the next two weeks, with renewable energy being fed into the South Campus grid by December or January.

With core values that reflect both sustainability and environmental stewardship, the university has, over the past few years, increasingly moved towards a more environmentally-sustainable way of carrying out its operations.

The new plant, which is one of many on-campus sustainability initiatives, is the result of a partnership between the university and renewable energies company Tasol Solar.

Essentially, the university has given Tasol Solar a piece of land, on which they will install and maintain the plant for 10 years, selling the energy back to the university. At the 10-year mark, the university will take over ownership of the PV power plant – and will no longer have to buy the electricity produced.

The relocation of vegetation in that area has also been assessed, with the help of the university’s Horticulture department, in alignment with the directives in the Urban Design Framework for the North and South campuses.

Should the project and delivery model be a success, the possibility exists for additional solar PV power plants to be installed at some of the university’s other five campuses.

“Over the past few years, we have been focusing on innovative ways to generate and use renewable energy to supplement our energy consumption – and have already implemented several initiatives,” said the university’s Sustainability Engineer, Andre Hefer.

“This new power plant shows our intent to grow the seriousness of our sustainability efforts.”

The university’s Photovoltaics Research Group (PVRG) is conducting research in this area, and has, for the past few years, been feeding solar energy generated by photovoltaics research systems located at their Outdoor Research Facility (ORF) into the university’s grid.   

“We are very excited about the proposed installation – we see it as the next step in securing reliable and clean energy for the university,” said PVRG head Prof Ernest van Dyk.

There will be 4 500 PV modules in total at the power plant. Two thirds of these will be fixed-mounted, and a third will be mounted onto dual-axis trackers, which can swing in the direction of the sun to maximise solar energy production.  

The 1740 MWh of energy produced would cover the university’s lowest usage demand during the year (for instance, demand drops during university holidays). “The plant will not be producing more than we need. Our long-term goal is not to increase our electricity usage but to look for ways to bring it down further,” said Hefer. 

An interactive centre linked to the new power plant is also on the cards, to give the public insight into how energy is created.

Hefer said the university was investigating green opportunities across all its campuses – and all new infrastructure was being designed and built with sustainability in mind.

He said university policies were also changing to boost sustainable practices. “Our new supply chain management policy has a green procurement section, which, if approved, will start to be introduced over the next few years.” 

An artist’s impression of Nelson Mandela University’s new photovoltaic power plant, which will be installed on South Campus later this month (July).

Nelson Mandela University’s Sustainability Manager, Andre Hefer, stands at the South Campus site where a solar power plant will be installed this month (July).

Contact information
Dr Andre Hefer
Sustainability Engineer
Tel: 041 504 1456