Taking yourself off the national power grid
Off grid is a term to describe not being connected to the main or national electrical grid, thereby using a stand-alone power system. It requires a renewable energy system that is not connected to the electricity grid (a stand-alone system) in order to power your home or business.
“It makes economic sense and appeals to your environmental values.”
Until recently a stand-alone, off-grid solar installation big enough to provide all the power requirements for a remote game lodge or camp was unheard of. In 2008 On Track Alternative Energy designed and installed the first solar facility for Zibadianja Camp in the Selinda Reserve in Botswana. Since then On Track has provided solar and other alternative energy solutions for many more camps across southern and central Africa, as well as the Indian Ocean Islands. Many of these being prestigious high-end camps such as Mombo, Jao, Kings Pool, Duma Tau and Xigera in Botswana as well as Segera in Kenya. Many of them now relying on solar to provide all the camp’s power needs.
For each installation that On Track Alternative Energy designs and installs, the system design is carefully calculated based on the power and usage requirements. These requirements are assessed to determine the optimal generation capacity for that particular lodge or camp.
The areas assessed are:
- Usage patterns by monitoring the camp’s existing usage profile
- Taking into consideration the geographic location and orientation (distance from the equator is important)
The solar panels are arranged in rows or arrays. When the client’s requirement is that the system blend into the environment, the arrays are raised from the ground on a timber substructure with walkways for easy access for cleaning and maintenance. The panels are angled to best capture the sun’s rays. In other cases the structure is constructed from steel and aluminium and placed low to the ground.
The inverters allow for the conversion from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current), and a solar-specific bank of batteries stores the power for inactive periods when the system is without sunshine. These are housed in a custom-designed ventilated shelter, which ensures a low ambient temperature for improved battery operation, essential during the hot daylight hours experienced in the African bush. Finally, a back-up generator and integrated control and protection systems complete the installation.
Recent 100 % solar installations include:
- Kalahari Plains: 20 kW installation, solar powered from December 2009
- Banoka: 15 kW installations, solar powered from September 2010
- Xigera: 30 kW installations, solar powered from June 2011
- Mombo Camp: 110 kW installations, solar powered from March 2012
- Duma Tau: 33 kW installations, solar powered from April 2012
- Kings Pool in Botswana: a 100 kW installation, solar powered from March 2013
- Segera in Kenya: a 120 kW installation, solar powered from August 2013
- Seba: 45 kW installations, solar powered from April 2014
- Vumbura North & South: 85 kW installations, solar powered from July 2015
These successes have led to the company becoming more active throughout the rest of Africa.
“Our relationship with On Track extends over many years. We are immensely proud of the progress On Track has made in power generation in this time, moving from extensive generator power provision to installing seven major solar plants in Wilderness Safaris camps. Our partnership has succeeded due to On Track’s commitment and professionalism regardless of the challenges and working conditions. What makes this progress so remarkable is the remoteness of the destinations, and the environments On Track has had to work in to achieve a professional product. On Track’s support in the entire process of planning, installation, and management post installation has been exemplary. After sales service to us is more important than the product itself! Wilderness Safaris is led by people with passion to do the right thing in life and this is reflected in our passion for the environment. I believe that these ideals are shared by the On Track leadership and staff, and this has kept our businesses close for many years.”
–Grant Woodrow, Managing Director of Wilderness Safaris Botswana
MOMBO CAMP – Okavango, Botswana
Mombo Camp is located in the Mombo Concession on the northern tip of Chief’s Island within the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. This area boasts enormous concentration of plains game and predators – providing arguably the best big game viewing in all of Africa. It is therefore important that Mombo keeps its environmental footprint to an absolute minimum considering the sensitive landscape of the delta within which it is located.
Mombo’s selection as the Top Hotel in Travel & Leisure’s 2013 World’s Best awards:
“Our emphasis in terms of luxury and service excellence is really on sharing and appreciating the amazing natural environment in which we operate. To have been able to do so in a camp that is 100 % powered by solar energy and is more that 100 km (and a 10-hour drive by 4×4) from the nearest small town is even more exciting.”
– Keith Vincent, CEO of Wilderness Safari
“By converting to 100 % solar we hope to keep the areas we share with our guests as pristine as possible, ultimately contributing positively to the state of our beautiful planet.”
– Brett Wallington, Wilderness Safaris Environmental Officer.