In 2009 Mike de Maine rejoined the Two Oceans Aquarium as Technical Manager having been away for seven years. When he came back to us he was a man with a mission. This mission was to look critically at the Aquarium’s energy consumption and to look for ways to reduce this.

Although the Aquarium was built with low-tech systems, the Eskom tariff increases as well as overall sustainability prerogatives challenged Mike to look for alternatives.

Over the past seven years Mike has managed to reduce our overall consumption from 274,879kWh/month to 210,850 kWh/per month. Not only has this saved the Aquarium money and carbon emissions, but it has also contributed significantly to the Aquarium’s Platinum status with the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme.

Mike’s dream is to get the Aquarium off the grid entirely. This is a tricky one since we rely on energy 24/7 for 365 days. This supply is critical for our animal life support systems. As part of this dream Mike envisioned the Aquarium roof space covered completely with solar panels.

In 2011 Project 90 by 2030 secured funding from the German government and selected the Aquarium as one of six renewable energy demonstration sites across the country. The funding allowed us to install a wind turbine and 18 solar panels, which mainly supply energy to the administrative office section of the Aquarium. Sadly the wind turbine took a hammering in a black southeaster wind a few years ago and was decommissioned due to public safety concerns.

Once the initial solar panels were installed Mike did a significant amount of research to see what it would take both financially and physically to cover the Aquarium’s roof with solar panels, but his day was made when the V&A Waterfront decided to include the Aquarium in its initial Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Project.

This project involved the installation of solar panels across more than 7 500m2 of Waterfront roof space at the cost of R20 million. The Waterfront has subsequently extended this project as new buildings are being completed.

Thanks to the V&A Waterfront and through Sustainable Power Solutions the Aquarium now has a total of 500 solar panels covering 850m2 of roof space. These panels will generate 128kWp, which is the maximum peak output possible. On a daily basis the expected average production is 535kWh, which is approximately a third of the Aquarium’s overall consumption.

According to Garth Cloete, Project Engineer for Sustainable Power Solutions, “Due to roof orientation we will only see about 90kWp being realised from the panels. However, while not all the panels are north-facing, we have managed to balance the morning and afternoon load so that the Aquarium is able to save on the Eskom peak tariff charges.”

The energy generated by the solar plant feeds directly into the Aquarium’s electricity grid during the day and is used throughout the building. At night the plant goes into standby mode.

The photovoltaic components were manufactured in Germany, but the overall structure is 90% local content. Aluminum has been used in the frames and brackets to withstand the high salt content in the air and the DC cables are UV resistant and double insulated for further protection. The glass in the panels can withstand hail the size of tennis balls and Garth assured me that panels in Johannesburg have stood this test!

Mike says, “A dream realised in stages is still a dream being achieved. I am looking forward to researching new and innovative ways of reducing our energy consumption further. However, having recently added in the new life support system for the I&J Ocean Exhibit has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works and our consumption has increased. This is due to the large pumps that are running 24/7, but I believe that the increased ability to educate the public through this new exhibit outweighs the additional energy consumption AND it is just another challenge to for me to overcome.”

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