A new smart microgrid at the 68 Ridgeway North shopping center in Harare is really a game-changer for the tenants in the complex.
Charles Pickering was born in Kadoma, 149 kilometers southwest of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. His family was farming in the area. He then moved to the United Kingdom in 1980 before coming back to Zimbabwe in 1993 to continue his farming career. He later moved with his family to Glen Forest, on the outskirts of Harare, to focus more on the horticultural side of things. He set up some greenhouses in that area. The family then moved to the city full time in 2009. They have been living in the city for about 14 years now.
A recent change of use proclamation for Ridgeway North and surrounding areas in Harare from pure residential zone to a mixed use zone by the City Council presented an opportunity for the family to unlock value from a property that they had owned for a couple of decades. Previously there was just an old cottage, estimated to be around 104 years young, on the acre property. Together with planning guru Margaret Hasslet and Skyline Project Management (Pvt) Ltd., an architectural firm, they came up with the concept to develop a high end boutique destination for retail in that part of town. Harare, and Zimbabwe, has been starved of new commercial and retail developments over the last few decades due to several economic issues, but there is now some activity in this sector with several new shopping centers coming up.
It took about a year to construct the shopping center on 68 Ridgeway North Road, in the Highlands area, one of Harare’s up-market leafy northern suburbs. Right from the concept stage, Charles and his wife Frances wanted to give something different compared to what the standard shopping centers offer in Zimbabwe. They wanted to incorporate renewable energy and intelligent energy management as well as a smart water ecosystem to make it the most eco-friendly shopping center in Zimbabwe, in order to attract high end tenants who are conscious about sustainability and reducing their impact on the environment. They also wanted to ensure tenants would never have to worry about power outages and poor power quality. They then roped in Inno-tech Solar, a solar local solar firm run by Richard Werrett, to design a comprehensive energy system for the complex.
NeedEnergy was contracted to install the smart energy management system. NeedEnergy enables energy consumers to incorporate Big Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and AI as part of their energy ecosystem. By doing so, their energy use becomes more intelligent, secure, and more efficient, unlocking savings for businesses and homes. Forecasting demand and generation, as well as the trading of power, is part of NeedEnergy’s key value proposition.
“We basically predict demand and match it with the predicted generation. If there is any mismatch where predicted demand is high, we manage battery during low demand periods (overnight for example) and use more of the electricity from the national grid and reserve the battery for times of subdued generation of loadshedding from the national grid. If the demand is very high, we also send notifications to clients that will help shift usage patterns. If there is excess predicted, our future plan for example is to trade it into the local area community VVP or alternatively feed it into the national grid,” says Leroy, Co-Founder of NeedEnergy.
Most properties in Zimbabwe in the retail and commercial sectors that have multiple tenants typically have the tenants provide their own power backup solution. Due to the incessant load-shedding over the past couple of decades, this usually means most tenants provide their own diesel backup generator. It is not a pretty sight seeing these tens of independent diesel generators in front of all these retail shops, even in the upmarket areas such as Borrowdale in Harare. Aesthetically it is not something that a modern shopping center would like. Of course, the noise and emissions from these generators is another major downside to this.
In line with Charles and Frances’s vision to offer something different and more sustainable, Richard and Leroy (Inno-Tech & NeedEnergy respectively) then worked together to provide the complex with an intelligent and centralized microgrid instead of everyone having their own diesel generator.
The microgrid currently has 60kVA Victron battery inverters, 80kWh BYD LFP batteries (they want to add 40 kWh more when more tenants come, e.g. the restaurant), Fronius Solar Inverters, 200Amp Victron charge controller and 40kW of PV on the roof. They will add more solar panels once more tenants take up the remaining space, especially the old school English-style inspired pub. The complex also has high temperature heat pumps for the hair salon and the upcoming restaurant. These are the first modern heat pumps to be installed in the country.
Tenants do not have to worry about supplying, operating, servicing, and repairing their own backup fossil fuel generator. They won’t have to be their own small power company like most shop owners in Zimbabwe. They can just focus on their core business of selling clothes, doing peoples’ hair, or running their restaurant.
Although the complex is connected to the grid, it can operate essentially off the grid. Charles and Frances wanted a self-contained ecosystem right from clean electricity, which Charles calls “true clean power” generated from the solar and ensuring tenants do not experience any outages or spikes. The shopping center also has a 60,000-liter water storage facility, a borehole, a sewage treatment facility, and all the waste is recycled. The smart meters for the water management system were imported through The Tech Butler, Michael Carter.
Every tenant at 68 Ridgeway North gets one bill that shows their consumption for the month from solar, battery, and the grid. They also get their own meter reading from the smart water metering system. Their clients also get real time visibility of their energy landscape on one dashboard. It’s really cool as well as to get one bill showing them their consumption from all sources as this solves a major headache of always having to reconcile all these things every month.
Charles says they have applied to the utility company to start feeding into the grid all their excess generation capacity. A lot of office and retail properties in the Ridgeway North/Borrowdale area, such as the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, have put up fairly large solar PV systems. As Zimbabwe has recently updated its net metering regulations to allow people generating up to 5MW to feed into the grid, this Ridgeway North/Borrowdale area could potentially be one of the areas that could lead in this feed-in program as well as ultimately being in a position to pool these recourse into a virtual power plant. Richard believes more property developers will start taking this route once they see the value from this approach. Seeing is believing, as they say, and it’s good that there is now 68 Ridgeway North that is a practical example they can see and appreciate. Charles says one of his neighbors has already been impressed by the smart microgrid at 68 Ridgeway North and is already planning to do something similar on his property.
Images courtesy of 68 Ridgeway North
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