The Hexkoel cold storage facility for table grapes, in South Africa’s Hex River Valley, is continuing with business as usual with new record intakes for the season, despite national rolling electrical blackouts lasting up to eight hours per day.
The timely implementation of additional capacity and the installation of massive on-site electricity generation capacity has made it possible for Hexkoel to keep functioning under these very challenging circumstances. At a full capacity of 2.5 million cartons at an average value of ZAR 130 ($7,13) per carton, the value of the grapes in storage at Hexkoel is around ZAR 325 ($178,17) million.
In week seven (mid-February) Hexkoel’s intake volumes reached 2 million cartons of grapes, setting the record for the highest weekly intake volumes in the history of Hexkoel, with slightly lower volumes received in weeks 8 and 9. At the same time, high wind speeds in the Port of Cape Town have slowed the port loading speed considerably in the last few weeks. Thus, it has been extremely fortunate that Hexkoel has been able to absorb the additional volumes of fruit and maintain the cold storage service.
The facility maintains the cold storage service through on-site generation capacity, despite the national implementation of Stage 6 electrical load-shedding blackouts by Eskom, the power utility. Last week, Hexkoel set a new record, dispatching 148 containers, the equivalent of 500 000 cartons in 24 hours.
Continuing with business as usual has been possible due to pre-emptive planning for additional storage capacity and electrical generation at the facility. In 2022, Hexkoel completed its most recent expansion which added storage space for a further 4 100 pallets and today the facility has a storage capacity of 17 600 pallets. The expansion included a service passage between existing and new rooms and an airlock loading out area with four truck loading bays. The total new area constructed is ±10,500 m² and the project’s budget has been approximately ZAR 95 million.
In response to the South African energy crisis, Hexkoel has invested approximately ZAR 20 million in generator capacity during the past five years. When the Eskom power supply fails, Hexkoel runs the entire facility at 4.1 Megawatt, maintaining the temperature levels without interrupting the cooling service.
Hexkoel Chairman Johan Kriegler explains that financing the expansion of the facility and additional electrical generation capacity was not a decision taken lightly, particularly in terms of contingency planning. “Current circumstances have shown that these investments have turned out to be vital for the success of our region’s table grape industry. Without cold storage, the losses to spoilt fruit destined for exports would have been catastrophic and could have run into hundreds of millions of Rand.” Thus, despite the current electricity crisis, the facility is continuing to serve growers in the area without interruptions.
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