UN Namibia revs its green engine

Mon, 28/10/19

Over a period of three years, UN House in Namibia has made great strides in green energy and technological innovation. The office has installed a solar panel system on the roof of its building, acquired two electric vehicles (EV), and combined these with innovative Vehicle-Grid-Integration (VGI) technology – the first of its kind in a UN compound in Africa. This transformation brings the prospect of environmental, financial, and energy-related promise for both people and planet.

Talk of switching to renewable energy for the UN Namibia in Windhoek started in November 2016. With over 300 days of sun per year, the second-highest level of solar irridation in the world and an abundance of land, Namibia has great potential in renewable energy, especially solar power. Considering this potential, UN House Namibia installed Photovoltaic (PV) cells on the roofs of its buildings 2017. This has the potential to make it a self-sustaining and energy-efficient facility.

The solar PV system has a capacity of 104 kWp and the UN House has an average hourly load of 78 kWh. The Copenhagen-based UNDP Office of Information Management and Technology (OIMT) is constantly monitoring the system. Given the most recent results, it is expected to produce 126.8 MWh of energy each year, which covers approximately 30% of annual energy usage of the UN House.

The PV system on the rooftop of UN House Namibia

The system was designed to lower the amount of energy purchased from the grid, cutting CO2 emissions by 20 tonnes annually, and reduce costs to the tune of the amount spent on diesel and commercial electricity in the previous years. Therefore, the office has become more cost-efficient, with savings amounting to USD 15,200 per year.

This also ties in with the UN initiative ‘Greening the Blue’ encourages climate neutrality, strives to reduce carbon footprint and promotes environmentally-conscious staff and office buildings.

The tremendous achievement of PV was celebrated on 26th July 2017, when the Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy, Hon. Kornelia Shilunga on behalf of the Hon. Obeth Kandjoze, officially launched the UN House solar panels in Windhoek, UN Namibia.












At the Inauguration Ceremony of the Solar PV System

However, UN House Namibia did not stop there. Starting late 2016, UNDP and Nuvve, a California-based corporation, entered a dialogue on the role bi-directional EVs combined with solar PV systems could play in creating a more resilient energy supply as well as smarter mobility in UNDP Country Offices (CO). It was mutually agreed to develop a showcase in one of the UNDP COs in Africa and demonstrate the benefits of such a solution.

In September 2018, underground parking slots were identified at the UN House for the project, where two bi-directional charging stations for the EVs were installed a few months later.

In early 2019, Namibia saw a sudden rise in fuel prices, an upward trajectory from a trend which had established itself several years before. One prominent alternative to cars which require fuel are the cost-cutting and environmentally friendly EVs. In early 2019, Windhoek media reported only one EV in operation in Namibia. On the 3rd of August 2019, two Nissan LEAF EVs were donated by Nissan South Africa to UN House Namibia, to be used in the VGI project. Therefore, there are now two further EVs existing in the country.












One of the donated electric vehicles as part of the launch of the project

Gerald Demeules, Global ICT Advisor at UNDP OIMT, said on this matter: “Behind the electric vehicles and solar panels that you see, is Vehicle-Grid-Integration. This revolutionary technology allows the EV to work not just as a car, but also as an energy storage system which works in harmony with the grid for bi-directional charging”.

So, how does the VGI technology really work? Let’s start from the PV system. The solar power produced is primarily used to serve the UN office needs. In the case that more solar power is produced than used, particularly over the weekends and official UN holidays, it will be directed to charge the EVs. In the evenings, the batteries in the EVs may serve as a power source to the building – an alternate to more expensive energy from the grid (energy shifting).

In the case of there not being excess solar power, the EVs can be charged during the night from the grid and transfer the stored electricity back to the building during the day when the prices of electricity are usually high (peak shaving), thereby reducing electricity costs.

Furthermore, if the grid power goes down, whether due to infrequent wide-scale grid outages or more frequent outages caused by local disruptions, the EVs may be used as a backup power supply, allowing lighting, communication equipment and even refrigeration and limited air-conditioning to remain functional for business continuity improvement.

Speaking remotely during the VGI inauguration ceremony, Gerald Demeules further commented: “Many people are accelerating the shift from ICE [internal combustion engine] to EVs because green e-mobility is profitable. Profitable because EVs offer more value by offering the grid operator to store energy: a buy-low, sell-high dynamic. This marks enormous [progress] with incredible potential in reducing CO2 emissions and inspiring many more to follow suit”.

At the Inauguration, Alka Bhatia, Resident Representative at UNDP Namibia said: “Namibia is making great strides in the energy sector and I am happy to say that by using these cars and charging them through the solar energy here, we will contribute to our greening the blue efforts and reduce our carbon emissions significantly.”

Alka Bhatia at the Inauguration of Vehicle-Grid-Integration in UN Namibia

Further, the VGI – a project which is driving e-Mobility – aims to build local capacities by encouraging local people to acquire new and employable skills in the field, and encouraging local companies to expand into an area of sustainable business.

On the whole, in addition to the goals previously discussed, the project also aims to increase independence from external and fossil fuel-based sources, lower costs of EV ownership and pilot emergency response services with EVs. It also aims to facilitate environmental responsibility by, for instance, cutting CO2 emissions by 3.5 tonnes by replacing two diesel-powered four-wheel-drive trucks which drive an average of 31,200 km per year, with two EVs.

UN House Namibia is a sustainability and green technology role model. UNDP is excited to see the possibilities that the VGI system and EVs, combined with green energy solutions, will bring to their work. We hope this will trigger a movement to build local capacities and smart-facilities, and transform the energy transport sectors in Namibia, as well as the larger region.