Harnessing sunlight

2013-08-23 00:00

WHAT once was designed to keep the elements off more than R1 billion worth of equipment at Belgotex in Pietermaritzburg is now being converted to bring those elements into the factory, and save the company millions of rands every year.

The floor coverings manufacturer, the largest carpet mill in South Africa and currently the second-largest power consumer in the capital city, is looking to its massive 100 000-square-metre roof to turn sunlight — and later rain — to its advantage.

Last month, Belgotex began installation of 1,2 hectares of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, in what will soon be the largest roof-mounted solar power system in South Africa, chief operations officer Kevin Walsh said this week.

The first phase of the company’s plan is to generate its own clean power, which is expected to deliver around one megawatt of electricity for the factory — the equivalent of the power used by 700 average households.

Over 4 000 solar modules, enough to cover one-and-half rugby fields, will be installed on the factory’s roof tops in this first phase at a cost of R17 million.

Belgotex has enough north-facing roof surfaces to carry 50 000 square metres of solar panels, and it has plans to roll out a second and possibly a third phase over the next five years to meet its own power requirements.

This could eventually enable the company — once legislation changes — to feed power back into the national grid by selling its excess electricity back to Eskom during weekends, shutdown periods or power outages.

In addition, the move is also expected to reduce its future carbon tax liability by between five percent to 10%, due to the 1 386 tons of carbon dioxide emissions saved each year from not having to rely on coal-produced electricity.

This development is the most recent chapter in the Belgotex’s Green Journey, a sustainability programme that began in 1991 and one that has seen a number of landmark initiatives implemented at the Pietermaritzburg factory.

Over the years, it has changed its operating procedures to recycle and reuse materials, and to reduce the resources it needs.

Through Waste Converters, a local recycling company, all ash generated in Belgotex’s factory is used in the manufacture of bricks for low-cost housing.

Carpet waste and rejects are also used in the manufacture of low-cost rugs, rejected yarn and fibre is converted to yarn for local crochet projects, and any other carpet and polymer waste is converted to pellets for use in injection moulding of chairs, buckets and other similar products.

A change from a wet-dying process to a solution-dying one significantly reduced the company’s water usage.

There is also a plan to harvest rainwater from the factory’s roof to further reduce a reliance on municipal resources, said Walsh.

“When we started on this ‘thinking green’ process, we thought it might prove expensive,” said Walsh.

“But it has made us think differently and we are saving a lot of money as a result.”

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