Sunny skies, kilowatts and electricity bills to joke about
By John D’Alton Snr
What does running a successful food chain, a shopping centre and free energy have in common?
In this age of rubble, waste and energy crises, there are many ways in which our poor abused planet can supply the energy we need. It is, however, not unlike wondering about when the crime rate will decrease, and the answer seems to be – never, will not happen. People will simply not look around and smell the kilowatts.
However, if we all contribute a little to using available and “free” energy resources, it is certain that in the end we will make a difference. So often I have stood on the banks of the Kavango River and watched in awe as millions of watts of potential energy flowed past, with no one giving it a second thought.
During the past half century, utilities have harnessed the power of the Kunene river at Ruacana and in Angola, and the Cabora Bassa in Mozambique and these projects are until the present still supplying electrical power to various countries. But these are massive government projects and not within the gamut of the ordinary man.
The fact of the matter is that there are individuals who think in the direction of free (and green) energy. Return to our opening question – what do a food supply chain, a shopping centre, a car wash and free energy have in common?
In Swakopmund, I was amazed and pleased to notice that the local Spar supermarket has its roof covered in solar panels. In an interview with the owner of the complex, Mr Ryno du Preez, it transpired that that particular setup delivers in the area of 450 KW of electrical energy, almost half of the shop’s total requirement.
Du Preez stated that the break-even point for the whole installation should be reached in four years. This means that after four years, the installation would have paid for itself, and this includes the salary of a worker who cleans the solar panels once a week, a necessity so near the Atlantic Ocean. At another shop further inland, also owned by du Preez, cleaning is necessary only once every three months.
The total lifespan of the installation is given by the suppliers as twenty five years, but du Preez believes that fifteen years is a more accurate assessment. Calculated from the break-even point, it means that for the last eleven years of its lifetime the installation will supply electricity free of charge.
This installation does not deliver power 24/7, since it does not store its energy as many domestic installations do via batteries, regulators and inverters, it merely pumps out power during daylight hours. Yes, the ubiquitous fog near the coast does affect power output, dropping the output by as much as 50% on really bad foggy days, however, the overall saving of 50% on the total energy requirement for the store makes the installation still worthwhile.
In Ocean View, the northernmost suburb of Swakopmund, another Spar supermarket owned by du Preez, has a similar installation. The car wash bay there has its roof also completely covered in solar panels, supplying most of the power necessary to run the facility’s energy-hungry equipment.
For the average house, a basic installation of about N$20,000 will run most of the energy requirements during the day. When batteries and inverters are added, it requires about N$60,000 but even the basic installation, without batteries, is worth the investment as it greatly reduces the energy costs. With the full investment however, it is within the power of every home-owner to become totally independent from municipal electricity.