Imagining the future from a symbol of the past
Today Robben Island is a major tourist attraction, a reminder of what South African leaders went through to secure our freedom. While its past is fraught, there is potential to change the future of the landmark into one of pride rather than shame. Dom Wills is leading the way with a solar power farm on the island that has taken it off South Africa’s energy grid and turned the world heritage site green.
“It’s no news that South Africa’s electricity supply has been under pressure for a while and that big changes will be required going forward,” Wills says. With a PhD in Wind Generator Design from Stellenbosch University, the engineer has dedicated his work to investigating sustainable energy resources. He co-founded SOLA Future Energy in 2013 with the goal of developing solar power throughout Africa. Previously, Robben Island relied solely on diesel generators which placed financial strain on the economy. Wills and the SOLA team installed panels which convert solar energy into electricity and contribute to powering the island. The solar plant is estimated to save up to R5 million per year, which will soon outweigh the cost of installation. Conservation of local birdlife has also been taken into consideration, as the panels are protected by bird-proof wires, while penguin-proof fences ensure that none of our local endangered species are harmed.
As South Africa’s population grows and more power is needed to enable development, a focus on clean energy isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. “We need to protect our resources and invest in the future of our country,” Wills says. While the Robben Island project is his most recent, it is one Wills hopes to duplicate. “Now that the project has proven successful, we can start rallying these types of projects throughout the country,” he says. In the meantime, the energy-generating farm is driving the move toward sustainable solutions, and changing the way we think about Robben Island.
Footage from SOLA Future Energy was used in the making of this film.