Dube solar project in time for COP17

[Image] When complete, the rooftop solar system
will be the biggest in Africa.
(Image: Dube TradePort)

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Vincent Zwane
Dube TradePort marketing and PR
+27 32 814 0000

Emily van Rijswijck

The first phase of a massive rooftop solar energy project is currently underway in Durban. KwaZulu-Natal. The project was launched just ahead of COP17, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks which began in the harbour city on 28 November.

Once both phases are completed in April 2012, the project will be Africa’s biggest rooftop solar installation, generating in excess of 600 kilowatts peak (kWp) – this is sufficient to power two fresh produce packing and logistics facilities.

The project is located in the massive new multi-use Dube TradePort development, 30 kilometres north of Durban.

About 990 solar panels will be attached to the roofs of two warehouses in the AgriZone, the trade port’s agricultural hub.

In the first phase, the project will generate 220 kWp in total, equivalent to supplying 150 households with electricity.

“With the completion of the second phase, an additional 400 kWp will be produced, making this the largest roof mounted photovoltaic system in Africa,” confirms AgriZone project executive Mlibo Bantwini.

The solar panels have capacity to provide power for all the needs of the energy-intensive fresh produce pack houses. In the first phase alone carbon emissions will be reduced by 294 tons per year.

Using the latest solar technology, little or no maintenance will be required other than to clean the panels from time to time.

“This system will not require any major further investment for the next 20 years and will bring about considerable reduction in carbon emissions,” says Bantwini.

Looking to the future

The Dube TradePort is a 60-year master development plan consisting of several complementary and interconnected developments.

The completed development will comprise the new King Shaka International airport, the Dube TradeZone linked to the Dube cargo terminal, and Dube City, a property development which will serve aviation and local communities. The plan is to make the city into a green precinct.

The first phase of the airport, cargo terminal, trade zone and Dube City has been completed and is fully operational.

The AgriZone is one of the key components of this multibillion-rand project, and includes the most advanced greenhouse hydroponics facility in Africa. Through its climate controlled greenhouses it already produces 50 000 cucumbers and three tons of tomatoes per week for large retailers.

A sophisticated tissue culture facility with the capability to propagate three-million plants per year is also located here.

A separate greenhouse for cut flowers and pot plant production will be developed in 2012. The project currently employs more than 100 local people.

Aviation and cargo cluster

Dube City is the first purpose-built aviation orientated city in Africa. On completion, the 24-hectare facility will include a mix of hotels, conference and entertainment venues, retail stores, and company head offices.

Speed and turnaround times are key to freight handling. According to Bantwini the Dube cargo terminal has the most sophisticated ramp-handling equipment available in South Africa.

A fully automated air bridge conveyer system provides direct access to air freight forwarding companies in the adjacent TradeZone. A major advantage is that Customs, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Port Health, South African Revenue Service and South African Border Police are all housed within the cargo terminal, says Bantwini.

“For the first time in South Africa, customs services are fully integrated with cargo terminal operations, providing one-stop regulatory, all-hours service for the convenience of shippers and forwarders.”

Addressing challenges of climate change

The Dube TradePort as a company also views itself as a responsible developer which responds proactively to climate change in all aspects of its business. To realise its vision Dube TradePort is working together with Swedish climate consultancy and carbon offset company Tricorona Climate Partner.

“In response to the challenges of climate change and as the host city of COP17, we would like to accelerate our efforts in lowering our climate impact, and develop a more sustainable business model in the aviation and trade port business” says Rohan Persad, Dube TradePort CEO.

Rainwater harvesting, recycling and converting green waste into compost are just a few of the strategies to be implemented in the future.

“A rehabilitation program over three years will revive 619 hectares of the grounds while the cargo terminal’s paperless trade program has already been initiated, and will in time dramatically reduce its own paper use as well as that of its related customers and service providers,” Bantwini adds.

Eskom goes solar

In the meantime, Eskom, South Africa’s national power utility has launched the first of its three solar photovoltaic pilot projects at the Lethabo Power Station near Vereeniging in Gauteng. Kendal in Mpumalanga and Eskom’s head office at Megawatt Park in Gauteng will likewise be fitted with solar panels.

The entire project will cost about R90-million (US$11-million) and will supply electricity for internal use at the two power stations and at the head office. The expected reduction in the company’s carbon footprint is about 2 845 tons a year.

The lessons learned from the pilot projects will support the rollout of these systems across all Eskom’s coal-fired stations over time, the utility confirmed.

The total electricity generated from all three solar plants will be about 1.55 megawatts (MW).

Eskom was also looking to other renewable sources.

“We have undertaken to invest in renewable energy projects and in cleaner coal technologies and these solar panels are an important first step towards that,” said Eskom CEO Brian Dames at the launch of the project.

The utility’s Sere Wind Farm near Koekenaap in the Western Cape province will, on completion, generate 100 MW of power, with construction planned for early 2012.