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Agri-business gets renewable injection

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Blue Energy installed three hybrid solar and battery energy storage solutions that will ensure energy security and significant cost savings to operations. The primary solar battery installation comprises of 217 kWp of ground-mounted solar panels integrated with ~300 kWh battery storage to power the irrigation system. Image credit: Smuts Brothers

Agri-business gets renewable injection

An agri-business in South Africa is reaping the rewards of installing a renewable energy solution.   

Thanks to a new integrated renewable energy solution, an agriculture company in the Western Cape Province of South Africa has lowered energy costs, reduced its reliance on state-owned power company Eskom’s national grid, and at the same time limited its carbon footprint.

Robertson based Smuts Brothers Agri, a division of Lucerne Agri Investments, is an integrated agriculture company that produces a range of fruit and vegetables and employs more than 2000 people.

Unreliable energy supply and the need for sustainable, clean energy alternatives created an opportunity for Africa focused Blue Energy Africa to install an integrated energy solution for Smuts Brothers, allowing the operations to reduce its reliance on the national grid.

A hybrid solution

Blue Energy installed three hybrid solar and battery energy storage solutions that will ensure energy security and significant cost savings to operations. The primary solar battery installation comprises of 217 kWp of ground-mounted solar panels integrated with ~300 kWh battery storage to power the irrigation system.

The two adjacent farms received 70 kWp solar solutions with 70 kWh battery backup. Combined, the entire Smuts Brothers system will produce more than 370 MWh per year, reducing their emissions by more than 800 tons each year.

According to a 2023 report compiled by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture on the impact of loadshedding on the Western Cape agricultural sector, 90% of producers in the Western Cape are dependent on Eskom as their primary, or only, source of electricity in 2022. However, some businesses have already started investing in alternatives.

Irrigation system the key

The key was the upgrade of the irrigation system to an energy-efficient pumping system that reduces pumping load and operational hours.

This was achieved through the implementation of optimised filter banks, variable speed drives and energy-efficient pumps.

The pump sizes were increased to enable the pumps to run when the sun shines, ensuring the cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable supply, making the farms not only more profitable, but also kickstarting Smuts’ journey of transitioning to 100% renewable energy.

Energy and carbon savings

The resultant solution ensures the farms – Olyvendal, Klipboschlaagte stores and Klipboschlaagte dam pumphouse – are now paying less for energy and are free of energy interruptions during loadshedding. As a result, they can claim carbon offsets owing to the energy supply coming from renewable sources.

Marcel Steinberg, CEO of Blue Energy says that the agri-business will save about 6,2 million kWh and more than 16 000 tons of CO2 over the project life cycle.

The project was funded by Gaia Fund Managers’ Renewables REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust), the first of its kind in Africa, listed on the Cape Town Stock Exchange.

Renier de Wit, managing director of Gaia says that sustainable agriculture is essential for addressing the interconnected challenges of climate change, food security and environmental degradation.

“Our strategy for sustainable agri-food systems reflects our unwavering commitment to driving positive change and creating a more resilient and equitable food system for the African continent for future generations. By embracing renewable energy, energy efficiency and water efficiency solutions, we can build a more sustainable future for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa,” says De Wit.

Agri-business gets renewable injection


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Agri-business gets renewable injection


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