Monday, May 9, 2011

Mini-grid for Lucingweni, South Africa

The village of Lucingweni consists of 220 homes and is located about 4 km inland from the Hluleka nature reserve. Not unlike a number of the villages in the Eastern Cape in the old Transkei region, this village was developed along more modern lines with each home on a designated plot of land. The land was structured so that each household's piece of land abutted the next. Thus forming orderly rows along which you can string overhead conductors to each house. In a large number of the other villages the houses tend to be scattered and far apart from each other making it unfeasible to interconnect them onto an electrical grid.

Lucingweni was identified by the government to be an ideal location to test the concept of Mini Grids. Especially because of its close proximity to Hluleka, where Shell Solar Southern Africa has already installed a much smaller mini grid. Lucingweni forms part of the government rural upliftment program. It will also add to the tourist potential of the area. Shell Solar will be installing the generating equipment on the top of the North-facing hill above the village. The equipment will consist of wind generators and a 50 kW array of S100 solar modules. In the longer term it is envisaged that a number of mini grids will be interconnected forming a "Makro" grid and eventually as the national grid comes to the area, to connect into the multiple mini grids. The existing generating equipment will then feed into the national grid as well.

Each home will be serviced by means of a "Ready Board" which has been extensively used in South African electrification program. The ready board is equipped with circuit breakers, earth leakage protection, plug points plus a control device that can be programmed to limit the maximum daily energy consumption and maximum current the customer can draw. Our system will provide a maximum of 1 amp with a daily limit of 1kw hour per 24-hour period. This will allow each home to have access to satellite TV, lighting and radio. There will also be a supply of 230v to two shops and a community center. The government will be establishing an energy information center as part of our control center. This will be used to educate and inform the local rural population as to the use of various forms of energy as well as the sale of suitable appliances. The community center will be built so that there is enough space to establish some commercial activities, like a sewing center.

The mini grid will also power two existing boreholes. The water will be pumped up the hill to an existing disused reservoir and then distributed to taps that are located throughout the village. Again this is part of the government’s commitment to bring water to the rural areas, such that there will be a tap within 200m from any dwelling. As a result of the water supply that will now be available a local NGO is planning a program to teach the locals to plant herbs, making use of drip irrigation. The herbs will be dried on site and sold into the local South African market. In addition to our project Easigas (a Shell Group company) will be distributing gas to the village and the surrounding area.

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