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Robben Island’s renewables makeover

Robben Island’s renewables makeover [Image: www.ashworthafrica.com]

To improve the sustainability of tourism in South Africa, the Department of Tourism has included renewable-energy technology in the retrofitting of key tourist attractions and State-owned destinations in the pilot phase of a Tourism Incentive Programme (TIP,) which will be carried out over the next three years.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom announced during his Budget speech in March that Robben Island, one of the world’s top tourist attractions, would soon generate its power from renewable-energy sources. The island will be a pilot site for the Department of Tourism’s roll-out of renewable energy retrofitment to botanical gardens, South African National Parks (SANParks) facilities and World Heritage Sites in the country, he said, adding that the installation of renewable-energy sources such as solar power on the island would take place during the current financial year.

“The exciting part of the retrofitting programme is that it contributes towards our countrywide effort to reduce electricity demand and to start shifting towards efficient energy use and renewable-energy use. “It will also include some of our community-based projects, particularly those that don’t have immediate access to the grid,” Hanekom stated.

The retrofitting programme is part of the R180-million TIP to advance the tourism industry sector’s competitiveness and transformation, and support enterprises and develop tourism attractions. Part of the programme will entail the department assessing the needs of these establishments and then installing renewable-energy systems such as photovoltaic panels (PV.)

Pilot Sites

Department of Tourism chief director of the tourism incentives programme Bernhard Meyer tells Engineering News that the Robben Island project is one of a number of pilot sites and that the broader tourism incentive programme also entails market access, tourism grading and enhancing iconic destinations and attractions.

He states that Robben Island is not on the national electricity grid, but that it uses expensive diesel generation sets that burn “thousands of litres of diesel each month to keep the island running” and it does not generate clean energy, therefore constituting a number of environmental risks. The energy retrofitment programme will result in renewable-energy systems being installed on the island, depending on the outcome of assessments that will be carried out this financial year, Meyer adds.

He notes that the retrofitment programme is a starting point for the tourism sector to convert to using renewable energy to create greener tourism destinations, adding that South Africa is recognised as one of the foremost countries in the world in terms of responsible tourism practices. Meyer cites that the retrofitting programme will reduce the input cost for tourism operations and that, ultimately, the Department of Tourism wants to roll out the retrofitment programme to the private sector to create a subsidy programme to encourage people to shift to using renewables.

“The budget for the pilot phase of the retrofitment programme will be about R60-million. The idea is to test it at government facilities and then, depending on the outcome, ramp it up.” Meyer adds that, if the pilot phase can be implemented correctly on a small scale “and it works well,” it can be comfortably expanded.

Bidding Process

Meyer adds that there will be a bidding process for the manufacturing and installation of renewables, and government standard procedures will be followed. A request for information for local renewables manufacturers was put out in July.

“We want to embark on a procurement process for the pilot phase. We don’t have the technical expertise and are looking for technical advisers,” he says. He notes that there is a strong emphasis on local content and the green economy with regard to this project. “If we can link our tourism retrofitment to the green economy, we can integrate as much local content as possible in the various renewable-energy installations,” states Meyer.


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