GEORGE — Airports Company SA (Acsa) would invest about R90m in the next 12 months in installing solar photovoltaic panels at six of its smaller regional airports to contain electricity costs and secure supply, Andre Vermeulen, group executive: airports, said.

South African businesses have been increasingly diversifying their power sources as tariff hikes and looming carbon taxes have made Eskom’s coal-fired power less competitive than renewable energy.

Speaking at the official launch on Friday of a 750kW capacity solar installation at George Airport, costing R16m, Mr Vermeulen said the price of 80c/kilowatt hour (kWh) that Acsa was paying for power justified its investment. Taking all factors into account for a 20-year plant life, the net present value of the George installation was R17.5m. The cost of maintenance would be about R250,000 a year.

Mr Vermeulen said savings would be passed on to Acsa’s customers, as it was aiming to keep tariffs flat, or even to decrease them, in the next few years.

He said the next two airports where solar power was being installed were Kimberley and Upington. These would be followed by Port Elizabeth, East London and Bloemfontein.

Lessons learnt at the smaller installations would be used when solar power was installed at the three biggest airports, in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. As the costs of battery storage came down, Acsa would invest in batteries, so it could draw power when there was no sunshine.

The company’s long-term strategy is to diversify its power sources at its airports.

Acsa chairman Skhumbuzo Macozoma said the group’s strategy focused on capital projects and improving energy efficiencies. If the George airport had surplus power, it could sell back to the local municipality. During the past four years, Acsa had saved 8% of its energy consumption each year at its airports.

The George solar photovoltaic plant will generate about 150,000kWh a month of the airport’s 250,000kWh/month power consumption, which translates into a saving of just less than R1m a year on electricity. It was installed in September and generated slightly more power than its target every month except December.

At peak, the plant generates about 680kW.