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iKaya Primary School switches on its solar system
Author: Petro Mostert
Published: 04/10/2023

​​Stellenbosch's iKaya Primary School in Kayamandi became the second school in town to benefit from green initiatives of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), Stellenbosch University's (SU) social impact division, and other partners, after switching on their new photovoltaic (PV) system that will enable the administrative wing of the school to switch seamlessly from the Eskom grid during loadshedding. Being retrofitted with power-saving lights as part of the project, this school will from now on bank R30 000 a year in savings on their utility bill.

Speaking at the celebration function held last week (Wednesday 27 September 2023), David Maynier, the Western Cape MEC for Education, said the challenge is to find a scalable solution for the province's 1 542 public schools to install similar solutions for electricity savings and efficiency. “If we look at the outlook over the next three to five years, we know that load shedding is here to stay, and it is a significant disruptor in the school environment. I would therefore like to put the challenge out there and ask that we take this partnership forward and create optimal solutions that will make a difference in the lives of our learners, as we did here today at iKaya Primary."

SU's Engineering Faculty and its division of Social Impact in partnership with the WCED started this initiative to fund piloting internet of things (IoT) energy management and lighting efficiency retrofits at 75 no-fee schools in the Western Cape, back in 2017 – helping schools to save on their electricity bills by installing smart meters to monitor usage and retrofitting them with energy-saving lighting.

Being instrumental in this project, Prof Thinus Booysen, research chair of the Internet of Things at SU's Engineering Faculty said it is a huge privilege for the University to help make a difference in schools and communities that are struggling financially. “We know that not all schools are created equal, therefore we try to make a difference with this project and where we can — with the help of partners — install PV to help keep the crucial lights on for the schools to function."

The first school to benefit from this project was Cloetesville Primary School – known as the Green School – which received a 7.5kW PV system, generating approximately 14MWh (14 000 units) of electricity per year, negating almost 13 tonnes of CO2 annually and saving R20 000 per year while selling electricity back to the grid. The Green School also became the country's first school and second building to receive an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). Cloetesville Primary will now be upgraded to a hybrid system with a hybrid inverter and batteries. Next in line is Cloetesville Secondary School which will be equipped with energy-saving systems as part of SU's social impact programme. From their side, the WCED will roll out similar programmes to another seven schools in the Western Cape region.

Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation at SU, said the University has contributed just over R1 million to this project. "We do this because we believe in the possibilities of our local schools and because we know that our collaboration, support, and learning together are fundamental to SU and our town's possibilities. The University is very grateful that we can join hands this way. We are looking forward to taking the Partnership with the WCED and other stakeholders further so that we can make sure the lives and future of our children are brighter. "

"Loadshedding and the cost of electricity have a devastating impact on our economy," says Booysen. "The cost is, however, not limited to business, as they directly affect operations at what we believe to be the lifeline of our fledgling democracy: schools. We are incredibly privileged to have the support of Stellenbosch University's Division for Social Impact to effect real change at the schools that need it most. This intervention at necessitous schools will substantially reduce their monthly electricity expenses, reduce their carbon footprint, and keep essential services going through bouts of loadshedding. Moreover, the burden on our frail grid will be reduced, immediately benefitting us all."

Jason Samuels, from The Department of Industrial Engineering at SU, who recently received his Ph.D. under the supervision of Booysen, and his team from the SU spinout company GreenX, that is working pro-bono for SU on this project, have spent the past two years covering many miles to do extensive energy audits at various schools to determine how it can retrofit them with energy-saving lights and meters to measure and manage their usage. Their solution lends itself to scalability whilst incorporating each school's individual load profile at a low cost. The team was responsible for the PV installation at iKaya Primary School which will enable them to save R30 000 per year on their energy bill.

 "We have been working with schools across the Western Cape for more than two years now and we understand the challenges. We have also created a solution that works for each school at cost-effective rates. My team and I, together with the support from the WCED and SU, are ready to take on the challenge of rolling this project out to all the schools in the province. We welcome schools to get into contact with us to start their process. We will also be looking for private partners to support us in this endeavour that will greatly benefit society in the Western Cape," said Samuels.

iKaya's school principal, Thandi Gxekwa, as a school in a very poor community, she is immensely grateful for this initiative. “You have made our lives easier, and I believe we will see a lot of improvements in the school, even in our curriculum."

​Caption: At iKaya Primary, are from left: Jason Samuels, managing director of GreenX, David Maynier, the Western Cape MEC for Education, iKaya's school principal, Thandi Gxekwa, Weziwe Mavovana, deputy school principal, Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director Social Impact and Transformation at SU, Adam Jantjies from the Western Cape Education Department, and Msizi Cele, from the Premier of the Western Cape's office.​