Energy security is becoming an increasingly large area of concern in South Africa, with farming identified as one of the hardest-hit essential industries. From growing and harvesting to packing and sorting: operations such as fruit farms are heavily reliant on electricity to
power irrigation and other key activities.
Stretching 60km along the Eastern Cape’s Sundays River Valley, Sitrusrand Boerdery is one of the largest citrus fruit producers in the area and exports to 47 countries around the world.
With an entrepreneurial zest that has taken them from family farm to international operation, Sitrusrand Manager Attie Janse van Rensburg and his team knew they were facing a formidable force and needed to find new ways of mitigating the growing energy crisis.
“We wanted to partner with a company that had experience in both the area and industry we work in. We knew that Sinani Energy had done similar work in the Eastern Cape and that the team had the capabilities we require to go off the grid,” Attie sets out.
At the heart of Sinani’s Sitrusrand project lies two Solar PV Systems, totalling more than 2 600 solar modules, that can reduce the farm’s dependency on the national grid:
A rooftop Solar PV System with a capacity of 463 kWp (1 440 solar modules)
A ground-mounted Solar PV System with a capacity of 390 kWp (1 206 solar modules)
The ground-level solar modules in particular have helped the farm utilise valuable space that could otherwise have gone to waste. “We have about 1.5 hectares of land that isn’t suitable for farming or housing. By placing the solar modules here, we could transform a previously unusable vacant area into a powerful generating structure that allows us to extend energy points on the farm,” Attie explains.
Steven Mortlock, Director at Sinani Energy, says this is one of the key benefits of their solution’s design. “Thanks to its modular nature, the centralised system allows for the expansion of power supply. This enables the Sitrusrand team to build additional packhouses and extend their energy grid as the farm continues to grow.”
Using alternative energy to go green – and off the grid
Although moving a large-scale farm off the national grid isn’t possible in the Eastern Cape just yet, the Sitrusrand team still have their eyes firmly set on running a fully independent operation. “We aim to be completely off the grid within the next five years and will use the latest technology and industry-leading expertise to get there,” Attie says.
Thanks to thorough research and consulting, Sinani considers the regulatory issues and expansion requirements for Sitrusrand’s operations to make sure each new phase is a solid building block towards their energy goals. “Our first phase was up and running in only three months and each year we complete assessments to see what the next step should be for sustainable expansion, eventually reaching full autonomy from the national grid,” Steven says.
Sitrusrand also ranks environmental responsibility as one of their top priorities. “Because we operate on an international level, we have an increasingly clear mandate to go green. By pairing our solar solutions with, for example, optimised temperature-controlled airflow in our packhouses, we can use as little energy as possible.”
Enhanced energy security
Sitrusrand has dedicated packhouses for oranges, lemons and soft citrus. Fruit is sorted and graded using optical sorting machines, including the market-leading iPIX, iQS and IFA solutions. This sorting process, together with other activities on the farm, relies heavily on constant electricity supply to continue throughout the year. “We simply can’t afford to lose a single second of production time,” Attie says. “Constant power interruptions can hamper the entire operation. A reliable energy supply can make or break a harvest year.”
“We analysed Sitrusrand’s seasonal cycles so we could see if there was enough energy security to maintain productivity levels,” Steven explains. By eliminating multiple Eskom supplies to single points of supply, Sitrusrand can use centralised generators to power the packhouses in winter and the pumphouses in summer – ensuring load shedding or outages would have no impact on the farm’s productivity.
“By taking six energy points down to one, Sinani could help us integrate our existing generators with solar capabilities to power not only farming operations but also employees’ homes on the farm,” Attie says. They could also strengthen the overall security of the farm by making sure the various alarm systems never go offline due to power disruptions.
Optimised energy management and tariff structures
Staying on top of energy tariffs can become tricky in a growing business. As Steven points out, the onus is on the business owners to monitor their usage and ensure they are working with the right tariffs. “We helped Sitrusrand to eliminate unnecessary admin and service fees by making sure the tariffs they pay match their farming structure,” he says. By identifying the correct tariffs and working from a centralised power supply, an operation like Sitrusrand could spend anything from 20% to 40% less as they manage energy demands through diversification.
With an operation this big, power management is key. “All systems are remotely monitored to ensure optimum performance and consistent availability,” Steven adds. “We are working in phases to make sure we can balance their production needs of today with their off-the-grid aspirations of tomorrow. We’ve already expanded the project once and plans for the next expansion, which include energy storage, are already in motion.”
Empowering and serving their community
Sitrusrand is a family-run business and Attie makes it clear that the teams on the farm are part of that family. Six years ago, Sitrusrand bought a neighbouring farm and established the Simunye Workers’ Trust: a shareholding and dividends structure that is directly aimed at benefiting and empowering those that have been part of the farm for many years.
“Sitrusrand doesn’t exclusively belong to the families that run the farm. It belongs to all of us – the entire community – and we have several projects in the pipeline that speak to the type of succession planning we envision for the farm and our commitment to land reform.”
“For us it’s not about what will make the most money today or what will give the most bang for our buck in the short term. We want to farm in a way that is best for our consumers, the environment, our marketing partners and the community of Sitrusrand Boerdery. Working with Sinani to expand a sustainable, autonomous farming operation is crucial to all of this,” he ends.
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