In the height of summer the sun beats down on the red volcanic rocks of the Lebombo Mountains. With the temperature rising the morning game drives return to the cool sanctuary of Singita Lebombo Lodge, as animals search out the deep shade of the Jackalberry trees. Even the pod of grunting hippos sinks a little deeper beneath the waters of the N’wanetsi River.
Animals and guests alike may be seeking out the shade, but a short drive from the pool deck at Singita Lebombo the searing sunshine is helping to slash the lodge’s carbon footprint.
“It’s a resource that’s abundant, so we decided that we need to be using it to reduce our carbon footprint on the environment,” says Gavin McCabe, Technical Services Manager at Singita Kruger National Park (home to Singita Sweni and Lebombo Lodges), where the final adjustments are being made to a ground-breaking solar energy project.
“We are the first lodge in the whole of the Kruger National Park to switch over to solar energy,” says McCabe.
Producing sufficient solar energy to power the 15-suite Singita Lebombo Lodge and 6-suite Singita Sweni Lodge, didn’t happen overnight though. The first step was to identify a suitable site clear of large trees, to allow for maximum sunlight, where the solar array would have minimal impact on the sensitive bushveld ecosystem. Once authorities from the South African National Parks had approved the site, supporting pillars to mount the array of panels had to be carefully installed.
“These metal beams were inserted into the ground using a hydraulic hammer, so there’s absolutely no foundation; no concrete in the soil at all,” explains McCabe. Before the panels could be installed, a heavy-duty electric fence also had to be erected to keep out any curious locals.
“Elephant and baboons were the biggest concern,” says McCabe. “And the monkeys as well; you can just imagine them running across these panels!”
With the structure in place 1188 photovoltaic solar panels were installed, connected to state-of-the-art batteries and inverters situated close to the lodge. Two new diesel generators provide back-up power for cloudy days and when the battery systems run low. Previously, the generators powering both lodges guzzled up to 40 000 litres of diesel per month, but with solar energy providing clean carbon-free power, that consumption will be halved. A similar solar installation is also ensuring a lighter footprint for the Singita Kruger National Park staff village.
Aside from ensuring a lighter carbon footprint, guests at the lodges will also notice another benefit from the impressive new solar system. With the batteries silently providing power after sunset, there’s no chance that the humming of a diesel generator will break the perfect quiet of a bushveld night. And if you do happen to hear a low rumble – well, that’s probably the resident hippos in the N’wanetsi River…
Singita Lebombo’s solar project: in numbers
1188 panels installed at 25°, facing due north
11 inverters connect the panels to 216 two-volt batteries
Two Cummins 300KVA generators as back-up