What’s believed to be the first solar powered ATMs in South Africa are now operating in Mpumalanga in the east of the country – and the timing couldn’t have been better.

While still grid-connected, the incorporated solar panels and batteries provide power during blackouts. According to ATM Solutions, a solar ATM operated uninterrupted for a full week during testing without any using mains grid power. The machine switched itself off during the seventh night, and then back on the following day once the sun was up and the solar panels were generating power.

ATM Solutions says it plans to install more solar powered ATMs across South Africa in areas experiencing constant power outages. The company says it has 5000 retail ATMs across Africa, with 40-50% of the machines in rural areas.

Another country using solar powered ATM’s is India, where they have already been deployed for a couple of years.

Mpumalanga (which literally translates to “the place where the sun rises”) has been prone to frequent load shedding like the rest of South Africa. Just over a week ago, a coal storage silo at Eskom’s Majuba 4.1GW power station in Mpumalanga collapsed and the station’s output capacity was subsequently reduced to 600MW.

Not only was Mpumalanga affected, but much of the country was subjected to rolling power cuts last week. Areas impacted by load shedding included Johannesburg, the largest city in the nation.

South Africa’s electricity supply woes date back to just before the end of apartheid when several coal fired power stations were mothballed by Eskom, which still supplies around 95% of the power in the country today. Apartheid’s end saw a massive influx of investment in industry in the country – but without the electricity infrastructure to support it.

A failed attempt by the government to deregulate South Africa’s electricity supply while preventing Eskom from bringing more capacity online resulted in a lack of capacity.

Renewable energy is set to play an important role in bringing the nation’s electricity generation up to speed. Much of South Africa averages more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year and generally experiences significant irradiation levels.

The South African government has set a target of 21.5 GW of new installed renewable energy generation capacity by 2030. This will consist of 9200 MW of wind capacity, 8400 MW of solar PV capacity and 1200 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity.

Derick Lila
Derick is a Clark University graduate—and Fulbright alumni with a Master's Degree in Environmental Science, and Policy. He has over a decade of solar industry research, marketing, and content strategy experience.

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