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Okavango lodge swaps fuel for sun’s clean energy

Storyline:Science & Tech

Getting diesel to a remote safari camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana was a logistical nightmare. So the installation of an energy system that combines solar panels and Tesla Powerpack batteries has transformed life at andBeyond Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp.

The system is the first of its kind in Botswana and the second on the continent — the first was installed at a luxury safari lodge in SA.

Transporting diesel to power generators “can be a bit of a nightmare; it was our biggest headache”, says andBeyond regional manager for Southern Africa Riaan Venter.

Trucking in fuel involved a five-to six-hour trip from Maun. A maximum of 5,000l could be transported because of sandy roads and water crossings.

“There are no shortages of diesel in Botswana, but there is a shortage of trucks,” Venter says. “There are only two suppliers in Maun and they supply the entire delta, so they have very strict schedules and you have to order about a month in advance.

“You also have to stock up before the floods [in the rainy season]. If you run out, you have to buy 200l drums of diesel and load these on the freight boat to the lodges.”

The new electrical “micro grid” and a new hot water system have slashed the camp’s diesel consumption more than 70% — and this is expected to reach 80% after kinks in the system are ironed out.

Venter says Xaranna can finally offer 24-hour power to guests — a popular change in a hot climate where air conditioning is in demand.

The camp’s two generators are now used for a maximum of three to five hours a day, depending on cloud cover. This means fewer fumes and noise pollution, as well as less effect on the environment.

“As best you want to try and not pollute the delta, these trucks are bush trucks and they get put through their paces,” says Venter. “There will always be some sort of diesel spillage during the journey.”

Moving to alternative energy is important as the government in Botswana requires this as part of tender processes when securing concessions.

Even installation is low impact: minimal concrete is used and the solar panels are mounted on gum poles and surrounded by an electric fence to keep out animals.

South African-based energy consulting company New Southern Energy installed the solar photovoltaic plant and batteries. “We’ve definitely seen the interest pick up over the last couple of years as the price of the technology is reduced and people have become more aware of it,” says its chief financial officer, Deepak John.

New Southern Energy supplies off-grid solutions to many game lodges and operates across sub-Saharan Africa.

“I think the market is huge — there are hundreds if not thousands of lodges and sites across Africa running on diesel generators,” says John.

In 2014, the company provided a solar power and lead acid battery storage system to Sandibe, another andBeyond lodge in Botswana. But the addition of a Tesla Powerpack at Xaranna has “a lot of really cool functionality and a much longer lifespan”, says John.

The batteries will last at least 10 years compared with five for lead acid batteries; they can be charged far more quickly and can discharge up to 90% without affecting battery life.

“If you look at the savings it would achieve over 20 years, the Tesla system had the best returns, taking the replacement of batteries into account as well as maintenance and servicing,” says John.

Xaranna’s new system produces about 450kWh of electricity daily and will reduce its carbon footprint by 4,500 tonnes annually.

“Implementing the latest available solutions helps us to maintain the sustainable tourism measures we have become known for, thus ensuring the remarkable landscapes where our lodges are situated are preserved for future generations to enjoy,” says andBeyond CEO Joss Kent.

A similar system is planned for another andBeyond camp in the Okavango in mid-2018.

New Southern Energy also provides remote diagnosis — “techies” in Cape Town access data that can warn of potential problems. Venter says he was told of a generator issue before he knew there was a problem.

There are less hi-tech challenges. Curious elephants have entered the solar power plant despite an electric fence running at 10,000 volts.

“We’ve had two break-ins but no damage,” Venter says.

But as for the logistics of getting diesel in, “it’s lightened the load incredibly”.

Source: BusinessDay