A year ago, Cloetesville Primary School became the first school in South Africa to receive an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) after Stellenbosch University and Innovus spinout company GreenX Engineering (GXE) installed energy-saving technology at this school. Friday, 12 August 2022, this popular Stellenbosch school, known as the Green School (Die Groen Skool), received a 7.5kW solar panel (photo voltaic) system which will generate approximately 14MWh (14 000 units) of electricity per year, negating almost 13 tonnes of CO2 annually and saving of R20 000 per year while selling electricity back to the grid.
Behind this new Innovus startup is the team of GreenX led by Dr Jason Samuels, who, at the end of 2021, received his PhD in electrical engineering; research that led to energy cost savings at schools in the Stellenbosch and Paarl region. Samuels’ mentor Prof Thinus Booysen, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and Prof Saartjie Grobbelaar, a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering, are both involved in the company.
Under SU’s Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation, Dr Leslie van Rooi’s leadership, SU’s Department of Social Impact and the Faculty of Engineering ran a campaign in 2021 in which they replaced lights at 25 no-fee or low-fee schools to help reduce their electricity expenses and in so doing reducing the burden on Eskom and the environment. “We managed to reduce the schools’ energy bills with anything from 21% to as much as 39%,” said Prof Booysen.
Thanks to funds still available after the initial project was completed, they could install a solar plant at Die Groen Skool. As a separate project in 2018, the team ran an industry-funded pilot where they installed a few solar panels at Rhenish Primary, AF Louw Primary and Laerskool Stellenbosch. The very favourable results motivated Rhenish to install a large solar plant and donate the solar panels of the pilot to Cloetesville Primary.
Dr Van Rooi said Stellenbosch University remains committed to partnerships with local schools on many levels. “We do this specifically to impact our schools and communities positively. It is wonderful that we can also contribute to the learning opportunities of Cloetesville Primary in this way. My sincere appreciation to our colleagues and the school community that we can work together in this way.”
Dr Van Rooi said that since the school now has a 10kW inverter, SU will donate a few more solar panels to ensure the plant can run at full capacity.
At the small ceremony at Cloetesville Primary this morning, Mr Salie Abrahams, the Deputy-Director General: Education Planning at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), said this project shows what schools can do to help communities to recover from a very difficult period. “Today is a fantastic day. Here we see first-hand how schools can take on a broader role in communities, providing services that can help rejuvenate them. With this creative project, we see how schools can both help to address the national energy crisis and improve the resilience and general wellbeing of the local community of Cloetesville. We now need to find a way to develop a scalable model where we can roll this out to more schools so that more communities can benefit from this innovation.” Abrahams said the Western Cape Government and WCED want to participate in this process. “We see moving this project forward as a priority and look forward to building the partnerships to create the platform needed to get as many schools as possible on board. This project has the full support of the WCED going forward,” said Abrahams.
Mr Alex Hall, principal of Rhenish, said today is a celebration of the human spirit of making this dream a reality. “We are privileged to have installed our own solar plant this year with a 22kW inverter which saves them 42 MWatt hours per year. “We are especially proud of the 40 tonnes of carbon emissions we save. It is with great pride that we could give back to the Stellenbosch community in this way,” said Hall.
In thanking the partners of this project, Cloetesville Primary headmaster, Mr Rodger Cupido, said the school will not only see the financial benefits of this energy-saving system but is now part of a more significant learning process that they can take to their community. “We are excited to be part of this and very thankful to all the partners involved. It is fantastic to have all these people here who are making a difference, and we hope to build on this relationship in future on our green journey as the Green School.”
More schools to benefit
The WCED recently awarded GreenX Engineering the opportunity to pilot IoT energy management and lighting efficiency retrofits at 25 no-fee schools in the Western Cape and help them save on their electricity bills. The project, to the value of R6 million, saw GreenX doing extensive energy audits at the various schools to determine how they could retrofit them with energy-saving lights and meters to measure and manage their usage.
“We have already identified 100 no-fee schools in the Western Cape that will benefit from our energy interventions,” says Samuels. “We hope that after successfully completing the work on the first 25 schools, the WCED will extend our project to include the rest of the 75 schools. These energy interventions will result in huge cost savings for the schools but would benefit the WCED greatly as they will have a blueprint to roll out to other schools in the region.”
Says Samuels: “We foresee that a school will be able to save anything between 20-40% on their energy bills, which could mean an average saving of around R3 000 per school per month and a total of R36 000 per year.”
On Friday, 12 August, the University’s Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation, Dr Leslie van Rooi, and the principal of Rhenish Primary, Mr Alex Hall, handed over the solar plant to the principal of Cloetesville Primary, Mr Rodger Cupido. The handover took place at Cloetesville Primary at 9 am (Friday 12 August).