06 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Rian Horn
Solar Panels at UFS Qwaqwa Campus
Revolutionising electricity with sun power: Solar panels at the Qwaqwa Campus.

Over the past few years the University of the Free State (UFS) has been planting panels, now the time has come to reap. Solar farms produced a return on investment in the form of R1.4 million in savings as a result of photovoltaics (PV) between January and March 2019. Nicolaas Esterhuysen, an electrical engineer at the Department of University Estates also reported a 2.34% decline in electricity usage between 2013 and 2018. 

Solar panels are the future 

According to Esterhuysen, the solution to a power crisis lies in “either becoming more energy efficient or generating our own at a cheaper cost”. All campuses have managed to save a total of R5.4 million in 2018 through producing our own power (solar PV) and actively managing the instantaneous load demand with building management system (BMS) software.

Overall, ground-mounted PV installations at all campuses contribute 2609 kilowattpeak (kWp) under standard conditions. The Bloemfontein Campus accounts for 979kWp of that amount while the South Campus generates 762kWp, with the Qwaqwa Campus producing 748kWp, and the Paradys experimental farm bringing in 120kWp to the grand total (to be commissioned June 2019).

Rooftop PVs generate electricity through the 80kWp Muller Potgieter Building, the 255kWp Bloemfontein Campus computer lab, the 35kWp Qwaqwa Campus computer lab, 135kWp Qwaqwa Campus Mandela Hall, and 416kWp Thakaneng Bridge panels. This is a total of 921kWp. 

Winter is coming with tariff terrors 

A 15.63% electricity tariff increase is projected this year in light of the annual winter adjustments commissioned by Eskom and Centlec. To gear up for the associated spike in power use over this season, University Estates advises the Kovsie community to use energy efficiently. “Think twice before switching on the heating and make sure to switch it off when you leave the office,” advises Esterhuysen.

In addition to generating electricity, saving initiatives such as implementing light-emitting diode (LED) lighting with motion sensors and actively managing demand at peak times have been implemented.

What’s next?

The next step is to rethink dated mechanical installations that are used to heat some of our older buildings. Replacing similar installations across all of the campuses are some of the ways the university intends to escalate energy efficient in future. 

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