Putting Solar+Storage to Work for Africa’s Farmers

BayWa r.e. renewables subsidiary successfully commissioned its first project in Southern Africa, a combined solar PV plant and battery system in the Zambian province of Chisamba in October.

Stationed at the Agricultural Knowledge and Training Center (AKTC) based at GART Chaloshi farm in Chibombo district, the plant is run by the German and Zambian Ministry of Agriculture.

“Our aim is to prove that solar in combination with a battery system is a sensible solution for farmers in Southern Africa,” Tobias Kriete, BayWa r.e. Africa regional manager for solar projects told Renewable Energy World.

The plant has 260 solar modules erected with a total capacity of 86 kW. It supplies the farm for up to 12 hours per day with 450 kWh of renewable energy for the irrigation of a 90,000 m2 grain field.

The energy equates to the consumption of 150 liters of diesel fuel per day and the emission of 145 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Energy is stored temporarily in a 160-kWh battery storage system if more is generated than can be immediately consumed.

“With moderate investment costs, we are able to secure a reliable supply with renewable energy,” Kriete said, adding that on the technical side, the company will monitor the system to improve the interaction of the different components; PV plant, battery, water reservoir and public grid.

Zambian farmers often rely on electricity from the public grid to power their irrigation systems, but due to frequent power outages, many farms are unable to fully irrigate their fields.

The nation often experiences up to 10 hours of blackouts and only a fifth of the inhabitants have access to electricity.

“Our combined PV plant and battery system are designed to ensure a stable supply of electricity,” Kriete said. “That means a plus for security and productivity.”

Kriete added that the PV system is a step toward more sustainability and the efficient use of a crucial resource—water.

The energy use at AKTC is extended to the administration office, but in the near future it will supply the new agricultural training center and accommodation of local farm workers, Kriete said.

“We are really happy to have successfully completed our first project in Africa,” Christof Thannbichler, Managing Director of BayWa r.e. Solar Projects based in Munich, Germany, said in a statement.

Thannbichler said that there is great potential in the entire region for the implementation of further off-grid projects.

“We are going to significantly expand our activity on the African continent and already have further projects in development,” he said.

BayWa r.e. will remotely monitor the systems from Germany, and also help to train the farmers on location so that they can take over the routine servicing of the plant together with local electricians in the future.

Several solar energy outfits have emerged out of Zambia in the past few years, boosted by the World Bank’s scaling solar program that is aiding developing nations to procure low-cost privately funded solar power.

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Munyaradzi Makoni is a freelance journalist with an interest in climate change issues based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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