June 7, 2023

Rector’s eNews – 7 June 2023

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I thought it might be appropriate this week to comment on the issue of energy at Michaelhouse, how we have attempted to address difficulties we have faced here, and how we are planning for the future. In doing so, I am drawing significantly on the fundraising Impact Statement for 2022 which was circularized some weeks ago.

Over the past couple of years, South Africans have become used to what has euphemistically come to be known as loadshedding which means the lack of availability of Eskom power. In every organisation, this has created significant difficulties and, in a boarding school such as Michaelhouse, this is an especially challenging phenomenon. There are daily management decisions to be made around the judicious use of our four generators which are regularly utilized to meet our needs, conscious though we are of the high fuel costs associated with meeting those needs and also of the immense strain on the generators which would be hugely costly to replace. We also recognize that this usage is not sustainable in the long term and not environmentally responsible. From last year, we took the important step to look at greener solutions with the installation of a 250kWp rooftop solar PV system on the Indoor Centre roof. This has allowed us to self-power 15% of our demand and reduce the cost of diesel powering the buildings in and around the Indoor Centre. However, this still requires the national grid and we continue to rely heavily on generators when the national grid is not available.

In the short-term, we have installed inverter/battery systems in all work areas, boarding Houses and staff administration areas. This has, naturally, allowed essential services such as with lighting, access via biometrics, alarms, cameras, fire detectors, and laptop and phone charging to function during loadshedding while reducing the reliance on generators. We are now wedded to the idea of stepping beyond creating as much energy efficiency as possible and seeking energy security and independence. We are in the process of making a purchase of a 1.6-2 MWh battery solution. These batteries will enable the installed solar to be used during load shedding, reducing the generator usage. At lower stages of loadshedding, the school will also be able to “load shave” by charging the batteries overnight at low Eskom tariffs and deploy the stored low cost energy during the peak demand tariff period in the morning. We can also charge using solar during the day and deploy the free solar energy during the evening peak period. This is, in essence, creating a “mini grid” on the Michaelhouse campus.

We also need more solar to optimize the effectiveness of the battery investment. So we are about to install further solar panels on campus that would increase our total solar panel capacity significantly. This is a step towards the energy independence mentioned above.

The next phase towards this will be the installation of another 200kWp rooftop solar in July and then to look at a large ground mounted solar farm near our van der Westhuyzen Dam and St Michael’s Mount. We do not yet have approval for this ground mounted solar and it will be subject to funding, but this is the direction in which we hope to move as rapidly as possible.  I thought it might helpful for you to know of this intention.

On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, we were honoured to welcome to Michaelhouse Judge Edwin Cameron. Judge Cameron has had a sparkling legal career as a brilliant student at Stellenbosch and Oxford universities, then as a lawyer at the bar and, subsequently, as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal and, latterly, of the Constitutional Court. Judge Cameron’s visit was occasioned by the theme for the term of the Transformation and Diversity Advisory Committee which is homophobia. Speaking off the cuff, he briefly sketched his experience as a boy at Pretoria Boys’ High School knowing that he was different to other boys and his journey through marriage to a woman to an acceptance of his being gay. He asked for tolerance towards differences in people, and the adoption of an anti-discriminatory approach to others who are different in race or sexual orientation. The boys asked many questions as was, indeed, the purpose of his visit to us.

Read the full Rector’s eNews here

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