With cashflow shortages, copper theft, load shedding, job losses and political infighting there’s no obvious end to the problems facing Eskom in sight. Which means looking at ways to take your home off-grid may not be a bad idea right now.

What about if you could go beyond installing a few solar panels on your roof and take an entire town or village and make it entirely self-resourced for energy?

That’s exactly what’s happening now in Naledi Trust, a small village in the Free State where Eskom, Amplats and Canadian company Ballard Power Systems are conducting a 12 month trial of a prototype fuel cell which will provide 34 homes with their primary source of electricity.

The system is based around three of Ballard’s ElectraGen-ME fuel cells, a type of reformed methanol cell which breaks down a liquid fuel into hydrogen gas and water using platinum catalyst. Each cell is capable of producing 5kw, and with battery backup the plant can produce peak output of 15kw. The fuel is a diluted ethanol mix, which will be topped up monthly.

There’s no word on how much the prototype system costs, although the list price of the Ballard units is R260 000 each fully installed. Methanol fuel, however, costs around R10 a litre, and fuel consumption is around 1l per kilowatt hour.

Deputy mineral resources minister Godfrey Oliphant says that as well as producing power for rural villages, fuel cell deployments would also have other economic benefits.

“A number of manufacturing and service jobs can be created from this initiative, providing an opportunity for export of value-added products to other emerging markets,” he said. “This will create a new technology sector in the country. It also, significantly, supports the South African beneficiation strategy by creating additional platinum demand of up to 7 500 ounces over 15 years through the creation of a new market.”

[Via – SouthAfrica.info]