At 10,000 km from mainland France, the Overseas Territory of Reunion is one of the poorest in France. It is not connected to any external electricity grid and still extensively uses fossil fuels (fuel oil and coal) to generate its electricity. But the island has ambitious goals for both agriculture and renewable energies. It aims to increase and diversify its food production, generate 100% renewable electricity by 2023 and achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2030.
This has prompted the decision by AFD to support the Bardzour project, developed by Akuo Energy, and its concept of Agrinergie, which combines agriculture, solar power generation and social integration. This solar power plant has a unique combination of benefits:
- A continuous generation of 100% renewable electricity reinjected into the EDF grid
- Storage of the electricity generated in order to smooth out the distribution
- Supply of organic agricultural products for Reunion
- Training and job opportunities for the inmates in the prison where it is located.
Bardzour (“breaking dawn” in Reunion Creole) is much more than just a solar power plant. It provides a response to a number of development challenges which benefits Reunion, its people, inmates and their families.
“A project like Bardzour is all about demonstrating that there’s a new virtuous development model to serve the environment. The energy transition can and must be achieved by serving the environment and territories.”
- Xavier Ducret, CEO of Akuo Energy in Reunion
Photos: © Pierre Marchal / AFD
The 27,000 solar panels cover an area of 4.5 hectares, which generate an annual total of 10 GWh in local renewable electricity. This contributes to Reunion’s energy strategy, by reducing dependence on imports, and minimizing the share of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions in the energy mix. Bardzour is reducing CO₂ emissions by 8,868 tons every year.
“It’s also about continuing to produce electricity to support the island’s growth and contribute to its economic development,” says Marc Dubernet, AFD’s Regional Director, “The project is structuring a green energy generation sector for EDF.”
EDF’s Island Electric Production injects renewable electricity into the grid by storing energy in lithium-ion batteries, which offset the lower levels of power generation when there is less sunshine – the batteries can store an hour of the power plant’s generation, i.e. 9 MW). All of the electricity produced by Bardzour is sold to EDF.
Bardzour also has 8,700 m² of farmed agricultural land: 6,000 m² of solar greenhouses and 2,700 m² of open-field crops.Together, they allow a diversified production of fruit, cut flowers, medicinal and aromatic herbs and vegetables. It is directly used at the canteen of the detention center and is sold directly to an organic cooperative as well as to restaurants and individual customers.
All the equipment required for the farm is financed by Akuo Energy through the revenue generated by the sale of electricity, and in consultation with the agricultural partner involved in the project, Agriterra.
For this project, Akuo Energy’s partner company aims to reach the break-even point to show that it is possible to have viable organic farming in Reunion. Indeed, all the farming is based on permaculture and is now certified organic, a rare thing on the island. It relies on the agricultural workers employed by Agriterra and operators from the prison.
Six operators work permanently at Bardzour. The first ones were trained in the construction of solar generation units when the power plant was installed. They have been working on the farm since 2014, “with a salary higher than the legal minimum,” says Xavier Ducret.
This system allows the detention center to offer additional opportunities under their reintegration program and creates local employment. “Since the implementation of the project, Agriterra has hired five operators who were trained on the Bardzour solar farm,” says Angélique Grimaud. Among the permanent jobs created: an agricultural engineer in charge of the training of operators on the site; a deputy farm manager and operator trainer; an administrative officer; and two jobs for the supervision and maintenance of the facilities.
Clearly Bardzour is an innovative power plant on a number of fronts – and a trendsetter. In the coming years, the concept of Agrinergie will be replicated in New Caledonia, Mayotte and mainland France, with an eye to preparing inmates to resume life in society with the skills they need to succeed.