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Harnessing the sun and safari experience

The renovation of the luxury Cheetah Plains Lodge in the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in the Kruger National Park provided the ideal opportunity for the owners to double down on its ambition to become fully sustainable.

In particular, the energy supply was – quite literally – a burning issue. Cheetah Plains Lodge was served by a single-phase grid supply from the national utility Eskom, which was both unreliable and insufficient to meet the demand for the facility’s systems and guests. On one occasion, drastic voltage fluctuations eventually led to a burnt-out transformer.

Moreover, the supply was supplemented with a diesel genset, which was both noisy and costly to run in addition to its fossil-fuel requirement.

The decision was made to abandon this single-phase supply and become energy independent with a more powerful three-phase solar plus storage microgrid system and upgraded diesel generator for backup power support only.

The solution that resulted, offering four times greater peak power level, was designed by the South African solar company Blockpower in partnership with the German microgrid integrator DHYBRID. It includes 300kWp of solar PV and a 250kW | 1MWh lithium-ion battery energy storage system under the remote control of DHYBRID’s Universal Power Platform (UPP), along with a 150kVA diesel generator.

The system is comprised of stateof- the-art technology – the high efficiency mono-crystalline solar modules from Canadian Solar and the containerised battery energy storage with 5,000 cycle, 10+-year lifetime from Samsung SDI.

The solar system is split in three sections with 160kW a rooftop installation and 100kW mounted on carports, while 40kW is on dual-axis trackers due to the limited space availability.

The diesel generator is an upgrade from the standby system to a remotely controllable device that is suitable for parallel operation. To integrate the generator into the system a Deep Sea 8610 MKII genset controller and electronic governor were installed. The SCADA system is fully customised for real-time monitoring and control, which in turn offers the possibility to further optimise the load and improve energy efficiency.

With 2,920 hours of sunshine per year, Cheetah Plains Lodge is now producing 100% green energy from the sun, generated with solar panels and stored in the batteries. With the inclusion of storage, renewable utilisation is near 100%.

Power availability and stability are improved, enabling the Lodge’s buildings and guest facilities to be powered – and all at a reduced cost. The Lodge saves 124,000l of diesel and 460MWh of energy per year, along with an annual emissions reduction of 320,000kg CO2. These savings result from the retirement of the diesel genset as well as the independence from Eskom’s supply, which is primarily coal-fired based.

A notable benefit is the provision of a more sustainable experience for Lodge guests, with all the accommodation off-grid. Other sustainability features that have been introduced include Land Cruiser electric vehicles to transport guests, which being near-silent also cause less disturbance to the wildlife, and a greywater recycling system and sewage treatment plant to minimise the intake of water.

An additional spin-off is the support for the local community, with the creation of local employment opportunities. Cheetah Plains Lodge also supports a nearby early childhood development centre.

“We have collaborated with some of the world’s pre-eminent minds in the renewable energy field to supply clean energy solutions that drive both our hospitality and safari experiences here at Cheetah Plains Lodge,” says owner Japie van Niekerk of the project.

The project was started in February 2019 and was operational by the end of June that same year.

“The new energy system not only increases the security of supply but also ensures the quality of the grid. Besides, both carbon emissions and noise pollution are reduced,” says Benedikt Böhm, DHYBRID’s CEO.

Blockpower and DHYBRID are no strangers to joint projects and in 2020 have expanded their scope outside South Africa to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and beyond. Customers have included airports, industrial operations and businesses such as tea producers and desalination plants.

Their solutions for commercial and industrial customers are customisable and scalable with solar PV, storage and diesel ranging from 200kW up to multimegawatt and multimegawatt hour systems. Moreover, as the DHYBRID power platform is manufacturer-independent, any known PV inverter and battery inverter brands can be integrated, providing a high level of choice and independence for the end customer.

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