Energy experts believe a sustainable energy future requires a decentralised energy system based on renewable energy and it seems Eskom is catching on. The utility is planning to introduce renewable energy based mini-grids throughout South Africa and has chosen the Lynedoch Eco-Village as the site that will be pioneering this technology.
The Eskom Rooftop Photovoltaic Minigrid Project is being piloted at Lynedoch in order for the utility to test and demonstrate various packages and options for future clients looking to include renewable energy in their energy mix. The pilot project will run for approximately two years.
For the project, Eskom supplied each house in Lynedoch with a complete rooftop PV and storage system. This includes six 360W PV-T1 panels and a control system with a charge controller, batteries, inverter, and communications interface. A local community member is trained to handle basic operations and maintenance.
The houses aren’t off the grid, as they are still connected to each other, connected to the village’s main electricity box, and then connected to the national grid. The village’s main box is replaced with a smart box that can provide Eskom and the homeowner with energy information. Eskom is also testing various ways in which residents can track their own electricity usage, the amount of electricity generated by the PV system, and how they can make savings in the house.
One of the main aims of the project is to create a model where residents can trade electricity within the mini-grid. Lynedoch is especially conducive to this type of research as it’s a mixed-income village and different houses have very different electricity consumption profiles. The trading system will allow those who don’t have as large an electricity demand to sell excess electricity and generate income both for the homeowner and Eskom. At the same time residents who require more than the average amount can purchase electricity from their neighbours instead of purchasing it from the national grid.
Representatives from the community are constantly interacting with Eskom to create a functional PV mini-grid model that can hopefully be rolled out on a national basis soon.
Sharné Bloem, one of the MPhil students, is part of the Renewable Energy for Transitions research group at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, a flagship research centre at Stellenbosch University. She is currently doing her thesis on the minigrid pilot project.