South Africa’s mobile solar energy provider Ugesi Gold has partnered with EnergyNet to provide an off-grid primary school with solar kits in the Gauteng province
On Wednesday, Ugesi Gold issued statement announcing that on 2 March 2016 the company will be inaugurating its mobile solar power station dubbed PowerTurtle, for a primary school located in an informal settlement of Palm Ridge, Gauteng.
“With the attendance of the President’s office, Gauteng province, department of energy, department of education and the IPP office, the government of South Africa will officially inaugurate the Solar Turtle [PowerTurtle] at the off-grid school in the informal settlement of Palm Ridge at 10am on 2nd March 2016,” the company stated.
Previous solar projects failed
According the company, in the past other solar projects have attempted to install solar panels at off-grid schools but due to theft, the projects have not been successful.
However, Ugesi Gold has expressed confidence in their product, stating that “PowerTurtle is a unique, container-based design, which allows for unparalleled security”.
Explaining the operation of this unique design, the release stated that the morning sunshine triggers the solar panels to unfold within minutes, which are enabled by a specifically engineered rail system.
“In the evenings the solar panels [will] slide back into the reinforced six metre shipping container for safe keeping. This pilot boasts an impressive 16x 300W solar PV panels (4.8kW) the latest Freedom Lite lithium batteries and …8.5kW Schneider solar technology,” the company added.
PowerTurtle – for communities
Commenting on the anticipated inauguration, James van der Walt of Ugesi Gold and the developer of SolarTurtle said: “PowerTurtle is the first step towards secure, reliable and sustainable electricity for schools like Pheasant Folly Primary School.
“The unique PowaPod design allows a series of solar panels to unfold from the confines of a secure 6 metre shipping container, and back again at night.”
He continued: “With this extra security the panels are set to outlast the harsh realities that off-grid schools face. By launching the PowerTurtle in Palm Ridge we hope to show the potential of not only secure electricity for the school but an energy solution for the whole community. I would just like to thank our friends at AMSolar and RexiVista that help bring the PowerTurtle to life.”
A new modular solar energy solution, the PowerTurtle, which is valued at about R600 000, was launched at Pheasant Folly Primary School, in Palm Ridge, Gauteng, this month. First presented to the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) in 2015, the system provides a way for government to provide sustainable and secure energy solutions for rural off- the-gird schools, renewable energy business Ugesi Gold CEO and PowerTurtle developer James van der Walt said at the inauguration of the system.
“The off-grid PowerTurtle incorporates a unique container-based design that provides significant security for the energy system. Morning sunshine triggers the solar panels to roll out on a specially engineered rail system and unfold in minutes. In the evening, the solar panels slide back into the reinforced 6 m shipping container for safe keeping.” This system includes sixteen 310 W solar photovoltaic panels that produce 4.8 kW, locally produced Freedom Lite lithium batteries, and 8.5 kW Schneider Electric solar technology and XW+ adaptable single-phase and three-phase hybrid inverters with grid-tie functionality and dual alternative current power inputs, engineering, procurement and construction company AM Solar CEO Alastair Armstrong explained. The PowerTurtle pilot was produced by AM Solar, Ugesi Gold and RexiVista, which completed the project in the past two months. It was sponsored by the GDE, while funding for the pilot was provided by conference company EnergyNet. The PowerTurtle is the first pilot of its kind to be deployed at a Gauteng school and the first independent power producer investment project for EnergyNet in South Africa. In October 2015, during its South Africa: Gas Options meeting, EnergyNet launched the ‘Not Just Talking Fund for Energy Access’ with its advisers, Impact Brands Africa, Fieldstone and ERM. The fund is designed to provide an alternative financing solution for small-scale, beyond-the-grid projects across the continent that will contribute positively in communities – especially in areas of healthcare, education and female empowerment. EnergyNet’s first investment was made in partnership with South Africa’s increasingly active Independent Power Producer Office, as stipulated by Minister for Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Speaking at the event, senior adviser to the President on energy Silas Zimu highlighted the importance of electricity and, consequently, the system, “as energy leads the economy, the economy boosts education and education sustains the country”. Government estimates that 2 500 off-grid schools in Gauteng, which are typically located in informal settlements across Gauteng, require support. However, crime and vandalism are the prime factors hampering the adoption of solar PV power in South Africa. While previous pilots have been attempted, only to have the solar panels stolen, destroyed or vandalised, the PowerTurtle, a new generation of the SolarTurtle system, is even more secure than the first pilot launched at Ngangolwandle High School in the rural Eastern Cape, Van der Walt said. “PowerTurtle is the first step towards secure, reliable and sustainable electricity for schools like Pheasant Folly Primary School,” he noted. Van der Walt emphasised that the PowerTurtle forms the first phase of a larger vision, in which schools will become energy wells for local communities through the installation of solar kiosks where batteries can be recharged, while providing the basis for future information and communication or Internet-based learning. He therefore hopes the launch of the PowerTurtle in Palm Ridge demonstrates the potential of secure electricity for the school as well as an energy solution for the whole community. PowerTurtle is not only in South Africa’s, but also Africa’s, best interests, following requests for the system from Nigeria, Mozambique and Burundi, Van der Walt pointed out. The plan, therefore, is to supply a pilot for Mozambique in the next year, and, potentially, a pilot in Nigeria, Van der Walt said, stressing that it is vital to gain a firm foothold for the system locally. “Another aim is to install at least six SolarTurtles and at least 50 PowerTurtles this year, with the prospects of doubling this capacity each year as confidence in the concept is established,” he concluded.
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Most schools in urban South Africa are fortunate enough to have a steady supply of electricity, but unfortunately rural schools aren’t as lucky, which has a severe impact on children’s education.
With this in mind, Ugesi Gold approached the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) in 2015 with a brand new way to provide schools with solar electricity – especially in areas that experience high levels of crime and vandalism.
This is where it’s Power Turtle comes in – a container-based solar power system that houses all the innards in a super secure way.
As the morning sun rises, it triggers sensors that roll out the solar panels, engineered on a special rail system that deploys them in mere minutes. At night, the same happens in reverse where the panels roll back into the reinforced 6m shipping container for safe keeping.
Currently in a pilot phase at Pheasant Folly Primary School, it has 16x 300W solar PV panels (4.8kW), the latest Freedom Lite lithium batteries and top-of-the-range 8.5kW Schneider solar technology.
“With no grid connection, Pheasant Folly Primary School is powered by expensive generators which are not sustainable within the school’s financial budgets, given that fuel alone costs more than R2000 per week. This is clearly not an ideal situation for the school or the environment, so a solution was desperately needed to facilitate affordable energy access and continued learning,” the company explained.
With the attendance of the President’s Office, Gauteng Province, Department of Energy, Department of Education and the IPP Office, the Government of South Africa will officially inaugurate the Solar Turtle at the off-grid school in the informal settlement of Palm Ridge at 10am on 2nd March 2016.
The government is so keen on the idea of the Power Turtle, that the President’s Office, Gauteng Province, Department of Energy, Department of Education and the IPP Office will all be in attendance next week to officially inaugurate the Solar Turtle.
The setup of the Power Turtle plays into the plans of government, as it has to provide off-grid schools with a way to keep the lights on, but it needs to be in a way that combats crimes. By the government’s count, there are about 2 500 school which are currently completely off-grid.
“PowerTurtle is the first step towards secure, reliable and sustainable electricity for schools like Pheasant Folly Primary School. The unique PowaPod design allows a series of solar panels to unfold from the confines of a secure 6m shipping container, and back again at night. With this extra security the panels are set to outlast the harsh realities that off-grid schools face. By launching the PowerTurtle in Palm Ridge we hope to show the potential of not only secure electricity for the school but an energy solution for the whole community. I would just like to thank our friends at AMSolar and RexiVista that help bring the PowerTurtle to life,” said James van der Walt of Ugesi Gold and the developer of SolarTurtle.
Cape Town – A local off-grid power station that looks a little like a UFO selling electricity by the bottle, and a computer game designed to teach the community how to run it as a business. Does that sound like life in a sci-fi movie or in the rural Eastern Cape to you?
The first SolarTurtle, a container with fold-away solar panels that will open a world of micro business opportunities for rural communities, hatched (or landed, perhaps) at a school deep in the rural Eastern Cape in June. A computer game teaching people who are not on the power grid how to run the solar unit as a business is still in James van der Walt’s head… but groundbreaking ideas germinated there tend to make it to reality.
Van der Walt is a 30-something mechanical engineer and software programmer who returned to South Africa a few years ago after living and working abroad for seven years with ideas to start a business that would make a difference. He had found himself working in the financial sector in Ireland after following an Irish lady home one day (all the way to Galway). Like so many in his generation, he found himself searching for meaning in his career beyond work, spend, save, retire.
His search for meaning led via a long and winding road to the Eastern Cape where today members of a rural community take large recycled plastic containers to a solar station to buy their energy by the bottle. The plastic bottles have been turned into rechargeable batteries that are charged during the daylight hours to be taken home in the evening to add light, heat, sound and etc to people’s lives. The bottles, holding traditional rechargeable batteries and with their lid transformed into a socket, are easy to carry.
Van der Walt remembers sitting on a ferry to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland one day looking at a steel plaque noting that the vessel that felt like it was being tossed about lightly on the sea weighed 40,000 tons. That must take a lot of energy, he thought. Add to that two other current hot topics that were on his mind: the financial crisis, which had put a lot of people out of work, and the energy crisis facing most countries. It was at that confluence, he says, that the idea for the SolarTurtle was born.
Then it wasn’t much more than a ray of hope that was to grow into the SolarTurtle. For reasons that are both simple and complicated, Van der Walt moved from Ireland to New Zealand. It was here that he had his next eureka moment after thinking, “There seem to be no problems here; this might not be the right place for me to settle if I want to make a difference in the world.”
All the while the ideas from that day on the ferry were rolling about in his head and an idea started forming around harnessing the power of nature to meet some of the obvious needs of man. Van der Walt started making enquiries about moving back to South Africa and the next thing you know he was here working on a business plan. It was then that a friend suggested he contact universities for help with research. He contacted the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University and the response was so positive that he ended up doing a masters in mechanical engineering at the school.
“This not only gave me the opportunity to study the problems faced by rural electrification first hand, but also to have access to some of the country’s leading experts on renewable energy and mechanical design,” says Van der Walt, who says he couldn’t have done it without the support of the school and particularly Professor Wikus van Niekerk.
Once he had the support of the university Van der Walt started to transform his ideas into action. Visiting communities who had no access to power, he quickly discovered that one of the main problems with rolling out a solar solution was theft and vandalism. More often than not, solar panels were stolen, with travelling syndicates of thieves disappearing in the night with equipment installed in remote areas.
It was then that Van der Walt realised that this was why shipping containers were being used as spaza shops. Another eureka moment, another stage in the plan. With some financial help from the South African National Energy Development Institute, the Technology Innovation Agency and the Department of Science and Technology, Van der Walt got his idea off the ground and on to the ground, with the first SolarTurtle starting to sell clean electricity at Ngangonwandle High School on June 15.
Ngangonwandle, 50km from Coffee Bay, is the largest school in the district with more than 2 000 learners, none of whom had electricity at home. Potential customers, you might say, making for a viable business proposition, in Van der Walt’s words. The local community was delighted to be introduced to the concept of buying electricity by the bottle.
The need for electricity in the region is dire, says Van der Walt. As if to prove the point, he says, a while after the unit launched, Eskom cut off the whole region’s power for two days due to problems at the local substation. During this time the SolarTurtle was the only place people in the wider area could get electricity and more than R2 500 worth of trade was done at the unit. “We could not have asked for a better opening day gift,” says Van der Walt.
Another gift has been the entrepreneur who runs the first SolarTurtle, a local woman, Lungelwa Tyali, who recently moved back to her ancestral home after working as an executive in Johannesburg for many years. In addition to selling clean power, she is trying many things to make her business work, for example an internet cafe, offering refrigeration services, as well as allowing a barber to set up shop. One can only imagine the opportunities for sales of goods, services and entertainment.
But what about the computer game to teach people how to run the business, I hear you wonder. When I suggested that it seems obvious that demand for the SolarTurtle units would soon outstrip supply, Van der Walt tells me that one of the big problems with rolling these units out is training people how to make a success of them. He stresses that this is not a hand-out, it is a business opportunity.
There are possibilities of tie-ups with international organisations and companies that are producing energy under the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, but Van der Walt’s real focus now seems to be making the units work as micro-franchises, viable individual businesses that are supplying clean energy to their communities.
The software engineer in Van der Walt takes over here and asks me if I know what gamification is. He tells me he is going to write a software programme, a game, where people will “play the business”. Real life situations of a SolarTurtle owner will be simulated in the game, which people will play as a way of learning what is required. The game will also give Van der Walt a way of measuring people’s potential and suitability.
Van der Walt came up with this idea because, he says, people are less motivated by the idea of money than the immediate gratification of a computer game, especially people who have been off the grid for most of their lives. Now that sounds like a lovely and empowering game!
The Guardian (UK)
Africa’s portable solar revolution is thwarting thieves
When South Africa’s government started giving laptops to off-grid schools, James van der Walt spotted an opportunity for a solar business. But his market research revealed a problem: of 12 schools he visited, 11 had previously lost solar panels to thieves. So he decided to pack his system into a reinforced shipping container, creating a secure, mobile power station that could be shut away at the end of each day.
The prototype Solar Turtle has survived its first year powering a school in the Eastern Cape, despite civil unrest that forced the school to close for three months. Save for some scratches where someone tried to break in, the unit came through intact. “Nothing got broken, nothing got damaged,” says van der Walt. “It was like, ‘Yes, it’s actually working’.”
Solar Turtle is just one example from a clutch of startups trying to navigate the challenges of Africa’s off-grid electricity sector with mobile, flexible solar technology. It’s part of a mosaic of businesses, social enterprises and philanthropic schemes fuelling talk of an African “solar revolution”. Other startups include Juabar and ARED, which supply portable solar kiosks for phone-charging businesses in Tanzania and Rwanda respectively, creating jobs while boosting access to clean, cheap energy.
New ideas and declining costs are already leading to a dramatic uptake of solar technology across Africa, according to a report published this week by the International Renewable Energy Agency.
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