Farmer generates his own power with hydroelectric mill

A water wheel on a guest farm in George’s Valley near Tzaneen in Limpopo province, South Africa, generates hydroelectric power without having any impact on the environment and all the while covering the costs it took to build.

Many farmers know Rob Wesseloo as the former CEO of the Clover dairy company, but not many know about his passion for charity work, the environment, and the protection thereof.

Rob Wesseloo

During his stint at Clover, Rob started the Mama Africa project to support people caring for the aged, infirm, and children in their communities. Rob believes that these carers also need to be looked after and should be spoilt once in a while to give them strength to continue the work they do.

To this end he bought the farm Onverwacht in George’s Valley near Tzaneen a few years ago. It is registered with the charity’s trust and has been developed as a getaway spot for charity workers to relax and get some much-needed rest. The farm, however, had no electricity supply.

The structure which houses the electricity storage system at the guest farm near Tzaneen is visible to the right of the canal.


The solution to the lack of electricity had to be environmentally friendly so it was a logical step to harness the canal that fed irrigation water to the neighbouring farm to generate electricity for their own guest farm. Rob says that although the solution isn’t the best in terms of design and costs, he and his team now know what to do differently should they build a second water wheel, or if they ever need to refurbish the existing one.

Shortcomings aside, it is still better than solar power insofar as the water wheel works day and night, and not only when the sun shines.

The bank of batteries for the hydroelectrical system stores 38kW.

It has a maximum power output of 7kW per hour and currently charges a bank of batteries at 5kW per hour. Power from the 38kW battery bank is converted to 220V through an inverter. “If we install another rectifier/charger, we would be able to boost our current generating and storage capacity from 120kW per day to 168kW per day. To make provision for peak times and if we expand later, we will have to refurbish the battery bank and install an extra inverter,” says Rob.

The project, comprising the erection of the water wheel, the installation of the electrical system, the structure to house the electricity storage system, the battery bank and the inverter, cost R500 000 (K360 000), in comparison with a connection to Eskom that would have cost R300 000 (K215 000).

This inverter converts the 12 V battery power to 220 V for household use while it charges the bank of batteries through a built-in rectifier from the water wheel’s power.

The R500 000 included everything: the construction of the water wheel, the generator mechanism and the battery bank with its inverter/rectifier.

Rob’s brother, Pieter Wesseloo, is a toolmaker by trade and helped with the design and construction of the water wheel. The two Wesseloo brothers have a cousin, Hendrik Zweers, who is an electrician specialising in solar power installations. He assisted with the design and assembly of the generator. “This is my team,” says Rob, “my family and I.”

The water wheel from above.

The cost per kW/h is currently R2.30 (K1.66) calculated with a repayment period of six years and a 60kW power generating capacity per day. If the full capacity was used, then the cost would drop to R1.20 (K0.87) per kW/h.

The team could design and install similar or smaller versions of the system. They are also looking at the possibility of using the existing canal on the farm with smaller water wheels to generate extra power for further expansion.

ENQUIRIES: Rob Wesseloo, email: rob@zwartkopgolfestate.co.za.

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