Working on sunshine

I have had ‘Walking on Sunshine’, the catchy 80s pop song by Katrina & The Waves, stuck in my head ever since reading some inspiring pieces on solar power last week.

The first article was about Japan’s innovative solution, given its space constraints, to help end its reliance on nuclear power by moving its solar power generation offshore. A 70MW solar island opened last year and two additional plants have been announced. The second was about India’s decision to move away from coal-powered trains to solar panelled ones – now there’s a bright idea for sunny South Africa to emulate!

South Africa has long been a leader in sustainable wine production and, given the abundant sunshine and amount of land available, solar power has enormous potential to keep the wine industry at the forefront. Solar energy is perfectly suited to the cooling of wine cellars and provides a sustainable energy supply, shielding producers from the inevitable future electricity price increases and ongoing possibility of load shedding, especially disruptive during harvest.

So it was very heartening to also read that DGB, South Africa’s largest independent wine and spirit producer and distributor, will soon have the biggest rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) plant on any wine-producing facility in the country. Designed and being installed by Cape Town-based Terra Firma Solutions (Pty) Ltd, the 800 kilowatt peak (kWp) solar power plant currently being fitted will comprise some 2 600 solar panels harnessing energy from the sun. The plant will produce an average of 160 000 kilowatt hours (kWh) in the sunny months of January and December, and an average of 50 000kWh in the winter months of June and July.

According to Tim Hutchinson, CEO of DGB, this project is paving the way for additional solar plants across the company’s facilities. “This plant will produce over 1.25 million kWh in its first year of full operation. With the environmental and financial benefits from investing into projects such as these, the company is investigating renewable energy opportunities across the group.”

As far back as 2010, the Grier family, the farsighted owners of Villiera Wines on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, installed some 950 square metres of roof-mounted PV solar panels on the cellars. Capable of generating 132KW of power, this was the biggest roof-mounted solar project in the country at the time. Subsequently, many more South African wine farms have invested in solar energy.

In 2012, for example, Vrede en Lust winery in the Franschhoek valley installed a 218kWp solar power plant which will generate 37 000kWh annually, enough to meet the winery’s power needs. In 2014, Lourensford launched its solar installation. The huge cellar roof is covered by 2 000 solar panels with a capacity of 500kWp, which will generate approximately 750 megawatt hours of energy in the first year of operation. A great investment in sustainability, this will save 750 tonnes of coal per year.

Solar installations aren’t limited only to the larger producers – several smaller wineries have followed suit. Kleinood in Stellenbosch, a boutique winery which produces the Tamboerskloof range of wines, for example, installed a 28kWp rooftop solar PV system to its cellar two years ago and is now also reaping the significant benefits of investing in solar energy.

 – Lindsaye Mc Gregor