$14m fuel cell project for SA

11 January 2006

The International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank, has awarded a US$3-million (about R18-million) grant to South African company IST Holdings and US partner Plug Power to install 400 fuel cells in remote locations and cities of South Africa over the next three years.

The fuel cells will provide a reliable source of electricity and will replace polluting technologies such as diesel generators. Fuel cells use an electrochemical reaction, rather than combustion, to produce electricity.

Announcing the project on 15 December, New York-based Plug Power said in a statement that the company would produce the five-kilowatt fuel cell systems which IST, based in Pretoria, would import, distribute, install and maintain.

According to Plug Power the project, worth a total of $14-million (about R85-million), will represent the largest number of commercial fuel cells to be installed in a developing country to date.

“When completed, the fuel cell installations will have the capacity to generate about two megawatts – equivalent to the electricity needed to power 1 300 households,” the company said. The electricity is targeted initially for use in backup and prime power applications in telecommunications and other industries across South Africa.

The cells installed using this grant “will provide a reliable source of electricity for industrial and information technology applications and for telecommunications systems, including wireless infrastructure,” Plug Power said.

“They will help displace highly polluting and noisy diesel generators, providing electricity more efficiently, emitting very little greenhouse gas emission, and operating virtually noise-free.”

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) grant is the first under a $54-million programme, funded by the Global Environmental Facility, that aims to bring clean, reliable electrical power to places in developing countries where grid power is unavailable or unreliable. Its long-term objective is to catalyze the creation of sustainable markets for fuel cells in developing countries.

Rachel Kyte, the IFC’s director for environment and social development, said the project would not only provide a clean energy source in South Africa, but would also provide reliable electricity to remote areas of the country.

Plug Power chief marketing officer Mark Sperry said the initiative would have a positive impact on businesses and customers in South Africa’s telecoms and utility markets who are often affected by power outages.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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