SA farms are embracing solar energy, kissing Eskom goodbye

In 2023, numerous farms joined hundreds of entities in registering large-scale renewable power facilities amidst South Africa’s severe load-shedding crisis. With agriculture heavily reliant on electricity for irrigation, storage, and processing, many turned to solar power. This shift, facilitated by revised licensing regulations, offers hope for cost-effective energy solutions in the sector, potentially stabilizing produce prices.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Hanno Labuschagne

Several farms are among the hundreds of entities that registered large-scale renewable power generating facilities during 2023.

Farming is one of many industries that has been particularly hard-hit by load-shedding.

South Africa is a water-scarce country which does not have enough rainfall to grow crops in common agricultural hotspots.

Many produce farmers require lots of electricity to pump water from boreholes or low-lying dams, which can then be used to irrigate their crops.

Large-scale crops also rely on centre-pivot irrigation systems, most of which are powered by electricity.

If the crops don’t receive the necessary amounts of water, their yields could be significantly lower than their actual potential.

Some produce must also be stored in temperature-controlled rooms. Failure to keep temperatures in check could spoil or degrade a crop’s quality.

In addition, dairy farming operations come to a near-standstill during power outages, as cow-milking machines and milk storage and processing equipment are unable to run.

Chicken farms and abattoirs also rely heavily on electrically powered equipment, both for temperature control and meat processing.

Using fuel-powered generators increases the costs of growing crops and food production and storage substantially, which also impacts pricing.

In these ways, load-shedding can significantly impact the prices of a wide range of produce in South Africa.

Private power to the rescue

Previously, the requirements to license large-scale private power with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) made it difficult for farmers to acquire low-cost alternative generation.

Fortunately, lifting the threshold for licencing private generation facilities that do not feed back electricity into the grid has enabled the rapid adoption of ever-cheaper solar power among farmers.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa’s (Nersa’s) recent lists of registered private facilities show many in the agricultural industry.

49 of the facilities from 2023 were registered by entities with “farm”, “farming” or “boerdery” in their names. The latter is the Afrikaans name for farming.

It should be noted that this excludes any cases in which the term specifically applied to a solar or wind farm.

All of these entities had registered photovoltaic solar plants, with capacities ranging from 112kWp to 1.5MWp.

For reference, a typical home rooftop installation with six modern panels provides around 3kWp, just about 3% of the capacity of the smallest registered plant for farming.

The biggest plant was registered by Waterwiel Boerdery in the Western Cape.

While there is very little information about this farming business online, a News24 report from 2017 said it produced citrus and herbs.

Another big installation registered during last year was a 990kWp plant from Greenway Farms in Gauteng.

One part of Greenway Farms’ solar installation done by Solink. Credit: Solink/LinkedIn

Its farms produce numerous fruits and vegetables — including apples, beets, carrots, and pineapples — which are used to make a wide variety of juices sold under the Rugani brand.

It also makes tomato juice for ZZ2, the largest tomato producer in the Southern Hemisphere.

In addition to entities whose names specifically reference farms, there were companies with “feeds,” “foods,” and “citrus” in their names.

Others which featured frequently on the lists were grocery retailers like Shoprite and Pick n Pay, and property developers.

Collectively, Nersa registered over 4,490MW of private power installations in 2023, roughly equivalent to the amount of demand shed from the grid during stage 4 load-shedding.

Read also:

This article was first published by My Broadband and is republished with permission