Clean Energy Solutions: MTN SA

26 April 2024

In recent years, loadshedding/power outages have posed significant challenges to South Africa’s infrastructure, impacting various sectors including telecommunications. In 2023, the frequency of loadshedding surged dramatically, to a 1 000% increase compared to 2021. Amid this energy crisis, MTN South Africa found itself navigating through operational hurdles, particularly in sustaining network reliability amid power outages. To ensure continuity, MTN South Africa resorted to extensive utilisation of diesel generators, incurring substantial costs to maintain operations at an optimal level. However, this reliance on diesel came at a cost beyond monetary implications. The heightened diesel consumption not only strained operational budgets but also posed a significant setback to the company’s sustainability goals, contributing to increased carbon emissions. Recognising the urgent need to mitigate both financial and environmental impacts, MTN South Africa embarked on a proactive initiative – the inception of the MTN South Africa Solar Park. This visionary project aims to harness renewable energy sources to power the company’s infrastructure, thereby reducing reliance on conventional fossil fuels and minimising carbon footprint.

The design and development of the MTN South Africa Solar Park represent a pivotal step towards achieving energy independence and sustainability. The Solar Park boasts a 5MW Solar PV installation complemented by a robust 2MW Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) with a capacity of 6MWh (megawatt-hours). The MTN Solar Park’s Solar PV array harnesses the abundant solar energy resources, leveraging state-of-the-art photovoltaic technology to generate clean and renewable electricity. With a capacity of 5MW, this solar installation stands as a beacon of sustainability, capable of powering MTN South Africa’s campus operations with clean energy during daylight hours. For the BESS, the advanced solution empowers MTN South Africa to optimise energy utilisation by storing surplus solar energy generated during the day for deployment during periods of high demand or during nighttime hours.

The integration of the Solar PV, BESS and gas generators enables the campus to achieve energy autonomy, significantly reducing reliance on the municipal grid and diesel generators. By leveraging stored solar energy, MTN South Africa can seamlessly power its campus operations, ensuring uninterrupted service delivery while mitigating environmental impact and reducing operational costs. The campus is expected to significantly reduce its dependence on the municipal grid and diesel generators, achieving a remarkable 40% reduction in reliance on conventional energy sources.

The initiative encountered multifaceted challenges necessitating meticulous planning and execution. Beyond the monumental civil and structural groundwork, the implementation of the solar PV and battery components proved to be highly intricate, particularly within a campus already managing three distinct energy sources – diesel, gas and the grid. Navigating the complexities of integrating multiple energy generation sources posed significant hurdles in terms of control and distribution of power. Managing the seamless co‑ordination of these diverse energy inputs demanded sophisticated systems and precise oversight to ensure optimal performance and reliability. Furthermore, the task of monitoring all five energy sources – including the newly introduced solar PV and battery systems – presented an additional layer of complexity. With a vast array of components comprising 9 159 panels, 14 inverters, two transformers, and two battery containers, the monitoring process required meticulous attention to detail and advanced technological solutions. We are committed to overcoming challenges and are progressing, with dedicated efforts focused on streamlining operations, enhancing monitoring capabilities, and ensuring seamless integration of the solar PV and battery components into the existing energy infrastructure.

MTN breaks new ground in our renewable energy integration. Drawing from the invaluable insights and lessons gleaned from this landmark project, we are poised to replicate the learnings at our data centres and switching centres. This strategic expansion reaffirms reduction to our overall energy expenditure and reinforces our commitment to sustainability. We continue our exploration of emerging technologies, particularly those aligned with our zero-carbon aspirations. Looking forward, one such innovation on our radar is virtual wheeling, a technology with the potential to revolutionise energy management and further
diminish our environmental impact. Upon its launch, we intend to leverage virtual wheeling to optimise energy utilisation, ensuring even greater efficiency and sustainability across our operations.