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CSIR explains ’strange’ structures at its Pretoria campus

Photovoltaic solar panels at the CSIR plant in Pretoria. The council said it was working with SA National Energy Development Institute to explore the most effective options to enable solar-powered electricity generation systems to supply electricity when the sun is not shining.

Photovoltaic solar panels at the CSIR plant in Pretoria. The council said it was working with SA National Energy Development Institute to explore the most effective options to enable solar-powered electricity generation systems to supply electricity when the sun is not shining.

Published Jan 17, 2022

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Rustenburg - Strange structures erected at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Pretoria campus are part of an advanced solar energy system providing the institution with electricity and research benefits, the council said on Monday.

The structures caused widespread public interest when they were erected in full view of the N4 highway.

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The council said it was working with the SA National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) to explore the most effective options to enable solar-powered electricity generation systems to supply electricity when the sun was not shining.

"People are becoming familiar with seeing fixed-position solar panels on roofs, but for people with little knowledge of renewable energy, the CSIR solar array must have appeared as a strange sight," said Dr Karen Surridge, project manager of renewable energy at Sanedi.

"The CSIR solar array is fully operational and its high visibility on one of the busiest stretches of road in the country allows us to make more people aware of renewable energy and its value," Surridge, said.

The CSIR structures that have created great public interest were a solar array consisting of 1 800 photovoltaic (PV) modules covering a total surface area of 3 493m².

The modules are controlled by a ground-mounted single-axis solar tracker that allows them to tilt and follow the movement of the sun from east to west.

The CSIR said the tracking system was generally more expensive to install and maintain but produces more electricity than a fixed/non-tilting system.

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The tracking PV facility is the first 100% South African-designed and made tracking system and substructure in the country.

The CSIR project provides multiple benefits – it’s a valuable research facility and training ground for PV engineers and technicians, but also generates 4% of the electricity required by the CSIR Pretoria campus.

"We want the public to appreciate that although renewable energy can only be generated when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, it can nevertheless play a valuable role," Surridge explained.

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