SKA SA awards R46m power supply deal


Optic 1 has been contracted at a cost of R46 million to construct a specialised 33 kV overhead power line and fibre optic cable system for South Africa’s new mega radio telescope by year-end.



The MeerKAT radio telescope will operate 24 hours per day for up to 20 to 30 years and will need up to 4 Megawatts of power when the instrument is fully operational.


“The power line has required a unique design, sophisticated hardware and metering equipment, as well as novel insulation and bonding methods, to suppress any radio waves that may interfere with the sensitive receivers of the MeerKAT,” says Tracy Cheetham, SKA South Africa`s infrastructure manager.


“This is a great challenge and one of our most remarkable projects ever,” says Dirk van der Westhuizen, Technical Director of Optic 1.


The optic fibre cable is the next phase in the project. The telescope will be connected to a control centre in Cape Town by an optical fibre cable and this tender includes the construction of the optical fibre from Carnarvon to the site.


The new 33 kV power line will run from the Karoo substation just outside Carnarvon to the SKA site about 80 km away. Once complete, Eskom will operate and maintain the new overhead line, while Broadband InfraCo (Pty) Ltd will operate the fibre optic cable.

Installation of the power line will kick off with the construction of 73.5 km of wooden pole structure from Carnarvon to the site, followed by 35 km of steel monopole structures to the core of the SKA site. The transition from wooden pole structures to steel pole structures provides better earthing which is an important design consideration to reduce sparking that could cause radio frequency interference.


The new transmission line will initially be operated at 22 kV and should be complete by December 2009. The second phase of the project entails the upgrade of the Karoo substation from 5 MVA to 10 MVA and operating the new transmission line at 33 kV.


“We are investigating a hybrid final power solution for MeerKAT that will combine the use of grid power with solar energy,” Cheetham adds. The Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University with a team from Hatch Africa are currently doing a feasibility study on supplying concentrated solar power to MeerKAT.


Completion of the construction of MeerKAT is scheduled for December 2012, with commissioning in 2013. The MeerKAT telescope is a precursor instrument to the world`s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be built either in South Africa or Australia.