Elon Musk helps Clanwilliam look on the sunny side of life
Rural Western Cape mall goes off-grid with a huge Tesla battery hooked up to banks of solar panels
He’s revolutionised online payments and sent an electric car to space aboard his own rocket, but now Elon Musk’s pioneering exploits are making a difference in his native South Africa.
The arrival of a huge Tesla battery in a rural Western Cape town won’t hog the headlines like Musk’s achievements at PayPal or SpaceX, but for Clanwilliam residents it brings their lives into the 21st century.
The 696kWh battery, which is hooked up to 2,580 solar panels, has made it possible for a developer to open the remote Cederberg town’s first mall. The whole set-up cost R16-million – R8-million for the panels and R8-million for the battery.
Noble Property Fund, which opened the Cedar Mill Mall on Thursday, could only get half the electricity it needed from Eskom because of grid constraints. Solar panels and the Tesla battery were the answer.
“Critics of solar will say: ‘Well, we can’t generate at night’, but when you’ve got this battery you can,” said Chris Haw, chairperson of Sola Future Energy, which installed the system.The installation seems small compared to the 100MW supplied by the Tesla battery farm in South Australia, but it is able to store 82% of the solar energy absorbed by the panels – offering energy even when the sun is not shining.
Haw said it was the first large-scale installation in South Africa of a lithium-ion battery linked to solar panels. “This is the start of a revolution in terms of the system — not just here, but all over Africa, all over the world,” he said.
Haw’s firm recently installed a micro-grid system on Robben Island to reduce its reliance on a diesel generator. Sola CEO Dominic Wills said the technology was a game-changer for remote areas. “These zones are poised to benefit from going totally off-grid,” he said.Cedar Mill Mall’s investment in renewable energy is expected to pay for itself within four years and last up to 20 years. “This isn’t only to be green, but it’s for the economic advantages too,” said Wills.
Cederberg mayor Jimmy Barnard said the mall would save residents a 165km round trip to Vredendal and had created up to “300 job opportunities for community members”.
Western Cape equal opportunities MEC Alan Winde addressed the crowd at the mall’s opening. “When an investment happens like this in a small town, everyone holds their heads a bit higher. They feel good about themselves,” he said.