A look at FNB and WesBank’s new R60 million solar energy project

FNB and WesBank have turned on their large-scale R60 million solar energy project at the FirstRand group’s Fairland Campus in Johannesburg, which has turned its car park into a renewable energy generator for the campus and the surrounding community.

12 months after construction began on the project, the 150,000 square metre Fairland Campus now supplements its electrical requirements using sunshine – helping the Bank reduce its carbon footprint by more than 2,700 tonnes per year, while lowering its dependency on the local power grid and passing the benefit to the community, the finance group said.

With more than 5,000 WesBank and FNB employees based at the Fairland Campus, shaded parking is at a premium. In 2015, a feasibility study was commissioned to establish the possibility of replacing ageing carports at the campus with solar panels.

“This approach would provide more employees with covered parking and also…lower carbon emissions and strain on the electrical grid,” WesBank said.

What started out as a parking lot with 978 dilapidated shade-cloth parking bays has been transformed into a futuristic field, with 7,647 reflective photovoltaic cells – across 1,010 parking bays – harvesting solar energy that helps power the Campus.

Power from the solar panels is routed through 83 kilometres of DC cabling, where power is stored across 83 DC-to- AC inverters. At peak efficiency, the system is capable of generating 1.99 megaWatts – or enough to provide power to nearly 1,300 households, WesBank said.

“This year marks a decade since FNB and WesBank occupied the Fairland building. During this time we have been hard at work to come up with energy efficient solutions to power this site,” said Marius Marais, CEO of FNB Home Loans.

“The switch over to solar power has far-reaching implications; we have now eased the load off the mainstream grid and this power can be deployed elsewhere. As FNB, we have taken an innovative approach to alternative energy projects at our buildings, including Portside in Cape Town, which has a 5-Star Green Star SA rating,” he said.

The solar panel installation is one of WesBank and FNB’s initiatives to earn a 5-Star rating for its Fairland Campus from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA).

Existing measures to minimise the impact on the environment include population density sensors that power off lights when no human activity is detected; solar heating for the water circuits in ablution facilities; and sun screens on the exterior of the building, which provide insulation and improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems.

“Flipping the switch on a new era for our landmark building is very exciting. We have passionate people working to reduce our carbon footprint wherever possible, using innovative solutions along the way,” said Chris de Kock, CEO, WesBank.

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A look at FNB and WesBank’s new R60 million solar energy project