Vukile to invest R350m in sustainable back up power for its retail tenants

Atlantis City Shopping Centre in the Western Cape.

Vukile Property Fund will invest around R350 million in backup power to supplement the electricity supply of 17 of its shopping malls nationwide through the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) powered battery systems.

The electricity crisis poses a risk to our tenants and communities that we cannot ignore, so we have identified a solution that will save money for both Vukile and our tenants in the long run and keep them sustainably powered through and beyond load shedding,” says Itumeleng Mothibeli, MD SA at Vukile Property Fund.

He adds: “Some 70% of our malls trade during load shedding. We would like to increase this number to 100% by giving our retailers the option to tap into a cheaper, more sustainable, and clean form of backup power than the currently widely used diesel-powered generators.”

Vukile’s research shows that while diesel-driven generators have been a suitable solution for lower levels of load shedding in the past – and continue to be so in certain cases – in continuous Stage 3 or higher load shedding, the financial cost of current backup solutions makes them no longer feasible in most cases. They carry unsustainably high fuel costs, substantial maintenance costs and contribute to carbon and noise pollution. On average, total electricity costs for tenants increased by between 25% to 30% based on having to run generators at R8-10/kWh during load shedding over the period January to October 2022. This is unsustainable.

Rather, Vukile will provide its tenants with the option of reliable solar power, which, combined with battery storage, costs less than grid power. This will also save many retailers the hefty cost of installing their own backup systems, particularly diesel generators that are unsustainable at higher load shedding stages. When retailers’ operating costs are reduced, consumers stand to benefit too.

The communities served by Vukile’s malls will also benefit by being able to meet their daily retail and leisure needs without the stress of power outages with the much-needed access to data from the free Wi-Fi networks available at Vukile’s shopping centres during power outages.

Vukile’s new hybrid solar-battery grid-tied systems will give shopping centres at least three sources of power – solar PV, battery backup and the national grid. These silent systems are easy to integrate into malls’ existing power networks, need little maintenance and are simple to expand. They are especially effective for shopping centres, as the busiest trading hours coincide with daylight hours when the sun can power solar PV panels. Retailers have the option to augment this further with generators for days when solar generation is constrained.

The roll-out of this project has been fast-tracked and can be achieved in about half the time required to install generators with the first phase scheduled for completion by the end of 2023.