The President of the Seychelles Danny Faure along with the IDC’s Chief Executive Glenny Savy and a delegation of affiliated partners from ministries and parastatals attended the opening of the off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) plant earlier this month. The power plant has been recognised as the largest in the Seychelles, assisting the IDC to meet its 90% green goal by 2020. Currently the solar PV plant provides 90% of Alphonse Island’s energy needs. The Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow stated that “it is a very interesting project which I think other islands can follow as an example.” He went on to say that it forms part of their national renewable energy plan to have at least 15% of the nation’s energy supply sourced from renewables by 2030, and 100% by 2050.  

The ground mounted solar PV plant which is located next to the island’s airstrip, boasts a 750 kWp plant capacity, and 1 500 kWh battery storage capacity. Owned by the IDC and Mettle Solar Investments, the key off-takers include; Alphonse Island Lodge, Island Development Company, Island Conservation Society and Seychelles Peoples Defence Forces, with an approximate 190 personnel and guests who reside on the island at any given point in time. The solar PV plant which took just under two months to build and commission was designed and constructed by Sustainable Power Solutions (SPS) and financed and developed by Mettle Solar Investments. Both companies have been active in sub-Saharan Africa funding and constructing off-grid projects, including one for an esteemed lodge which is the largest solar supplied battery system in East Africa. The project will be operated and maintained by the IDC, Mettle Solar Investments and SPS going forward.  

The island which once relied heavily on diesel gensets to power the needs of tourism activities and residents has dramatically reduced their operational costs and carbon footprint. The storage plant system uses Li-Ion batteries which are manufactured by Tesla. Previously relying on four diesel gensets, the island currently only uses three as a back-up to the solar PV and battery system. In future, the island is expected to only use two gensets. Glenny Savy noted that the project is a real cost saving exercise; from using 5 – 7 barrels of diesel daily to power the gensets, to now roughly 5 barrels monthly, resulting in an expected diesel savings of 270 000 litres annually. Francois Van Themaat, CEO of the Mettle Solar group, explained that “as funders, providing clients with access to affordable clean energy will help to accelerate the transition to renewable and sustainable energy use across Africa, thereby helping to protect our environment for future generations, which is what we ultimately want to do.” Alphonse is expected to have a reduction in diesel runtime of 7 390 hours per annum which will have an estimated 7 18 tonnes reduction in their annual carbon emissions.  

According to SPS’s CEO, Axel Scholle, “the project makes environmental and business sense, renewables are able to provide clients with autonomy in energy while securing their energy supply”. He went onto say that it is a great feat for the island and the teams involved in the engineering design, procurement and logistics as well as construction”. The design of the plant needed to consider the island’s climate and environment, all 2 200 tier 1 PV modules are comprised of high efficiency cells and are dual glass encapsulated instead of aluminium frames, thus minimizing corrosion. Furthermore, due to the remote island having limited equipment and supplies, numerous materials needed to be brought in via a barge where it could not be sourced locally, such as the telehandler used to move materials and equipment as well as a JCB for the applicable earthworks.

During the launch, a scenario of low state of energy (SOE) was simulated which calls the gensets. Garth Cloete (Head of Engineering at SPS) and Savy, demonstrated how the island has moved from power through gensets to power through solar and storage. They further revealed how the system reacts in different environmental conditions. The two key factors of the demonstration included how the gensets are automatically called by the micro-grid controller system to cover the load when batteries are empty and there is no available PV. Secondly, that when the PV becomes available the system will automatically switch off the gensets and supply the loads as well as start charging the batteries. A primary element to the plant’s successful operation relies on the real-time controller which ensures control and optimization of the various energy generation sources within the overall system.