BRISBANE, Australia — In Turalei, South Sudan, more than 150,000 people are able to receive Mayardit 90.7 FM, a radio station that broadcasts a variety of news, music and entertainment.
Supported by Internews, the radio station is a welcome service for the community, many of whom have little or no education.
However, Mayardit FM struggled with getting a consistent, reliable source of power for its transmissions. The high price of fuel to power the generator meant that the station was only able to broadcast for eight hours a day. Often, when fuel became too expensive or too hard to distribute, the station would simply fall silent.
Issa Kassimu, an electrical engineer with Internews, installs the solar panels for Mayardit FM.
Issa Kassimu checks the batteries.
Issa Kassimu, an electrical engineer with Internews, would regularly travel to the station to repair or service the generator. He discovered that the generator, and its backup batteries, needed to be replaced. He recommended that the station convert to a solar-powered system.
A combination of solar panels and a battery array allows a radio station to gain power from the sun, rather than rely on diesel-powered generators or an electrical grid where one exists. The batteries are recharged by the solar panels, and provide power when the sun doesn’t shine.
Kassimu told me via email that stations shouldn’t rush into solar. “The solar system has to be properly designed and sized. Stations should do a feasibility study and a cost-benefit analysis so that they can go for a system, which will match their budget and setup.”
Kassimu planned for a 21 kW array of 84 solar panels, and a 78 kWh battery array, after carefully researching power consumption for the station’s systems.
The panels and batteries were transported from the South Sudanese capital of Juba, a process that took eight days along bumpy roads. Kassimu supervised the installation of the equipment, including building an additional room to house the gear. On Mar. 28, 2016, the system was turned on.
There is a backup generator in case of any failure, however the system has had no unplanned time off-air since installation. Annual savings are around 92.8 percent cheaper using solar compared with running a generator.
DOUBLE AIR TIME
Most importantly, it has meant that the station is now able to broadcast from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day — more than double the time on-air. The stability and reliability means that advertisers and sponsors are more attracted to the station.
The total set-up costs for the station were around US$178,000; though the station benefited from donations of supplies including the batteries, and reuse of older equipment.
Solar batteries at Mayardit FM.
“The upfront cost of installing a solar system is high, but the annual running costs are very low,” Kassimu said. “Stations can save in the long run.”
The system should pay for itself, in terms of cost benefit, in five years, and is a financial success for the station. However, the benefits extend beyond simple cost. The station no longer runs a generator for power, so the pupils at the neighboring school are now able to concentrate on their lessons in peace.
Solar is in use elsewhere. In Australia, the BAI Communications site in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, is trialing radio and television broadcast transmitters entirely powered by solar. A 39 kW solar array is used alongside a 215 kWh battery array to provide the constant, 24-hour power.
The company also runs a transmission station on Mount Owen, Tasmania, which is powered by a mixture of wind and solar. A 15 kW wind turbine, a 5 kW solar system and a 5.8 kWh battery array allows 90 percent of power to be self-produced, with the remainder coming from the grid.
The Mayardit FM building and solar panels.
Use of a mixture of wind and solar is not unheard of. “We have successfully sold three sites [powered by solar and wind] in Papua New Guinea and are currently in the process of supplying more. These are full sites that include towers, huts and all receiving/transmitting equipment,” Luca Paltera, broadcast engineer at N-Com based in Brisbane, Queensland, said.
Renewable energy is also used by select radio stations as an additive source of power for many companies and individuals, including Seymour FM in Seymour, Victoria, which has a 5 kVa system at its studio, installed to reduce the cost of its electricity bill.
At Mayardit FM in South Sudan, its use of solar is more than a cost saving — it enables the station to broadcast reliably, right throughout the day. A white paper of the station’s learnings and advice for others, has now been published on the Internews website (www.internews.org/research-publications/solar-powered-transmission).
James Cridland reports on the industry for Radio World from Brisbane, Queensland.