The electricity supplied to Eskom by the 319 600 photovoltaic units at the Sishen Solar Energy Facility in the Northern Cape is equivalent to the consumption of 100 000 households, Rafael Esteban, the South African country director for the Spanish group Acciona Energia said on Thursday.
Acciona holds 51% of the project with South African infrastructure group Aveng holding another 29%. The balance is held by empowerment partners the Soul City Broad-Based Empowerment Company and a community trust.
Esteban said the plant that was connected to the national grid on November 29 is expected to produce 216 GWh per year and will have the highest level of electricity output of all currently operational photovoltaic plants in Africa.
He said the plant will not generate electricity during the night as it is dependent on sunshine, but that is being compensated for by other sources of electricity that are available to the grid when the sun doesn’t shine.
One of the biggest advantages of renewable energy projects like this is the quick construction time, Esteban said. The Sishen pant was constructed under an EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contract as a joint venture between Acciona and Aveng in 16 months, at a cost of about R2 billion.
Using this technology rather than coal-fired generation means avoiding 208 000 metric tons of C02 emissions by conventional coal-fired power stations into the atmosphere, Esteban said.
The plant has a nominal peak capacity of 74MW. It covers approximately 250 hectares and consists of 470 solar trackers that support the 319 600 photovoltaic modules. “If they were lined up straight, the rows of panels in each structure – seventeen 41-metre-long beams – would cover 327 kilometres, which is the distance between Cape Town and Mossel Bay,” Esteban said.
The Sishen project was approved by the Department of Energy in round two of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). This programme, which has been hailed as one of the most successful public-private partnerships in renewable energy, was launched with the aim to increase the share of renewable energy technologies in South Africa’s energy mix, which is currently dominated by coal.
Esteban said while the REIPPP has been very successful so far, one of the determining factors going forward will be Eskom’s ability to connect projects to the national grid.
The objective of REIPPPP is to award power purchase agreements to renewable energy projects for an overall capacity of 3 725 MW to be installed by the end of 2016, over five rounds of bidding. Bid round five is expected to be announced in 2015.
The construction of the Sishen plant created an overall average of 500 jobs, and at its peak, approximately 1 000 jobs were created. More than 90% of those employed were South African, of whom 60% were from the local community.
Acciona is currently completing the construction of a 138 MW wind farm in Western Cape, also awarded under round two of the REIPPPP. Additionally, it is working on a number of wind and photovoltaic projects while intensifying its activity in the marketing of wind turbines.
With the completion of the Sishen plant, the Spanish company now owns and operates power generation plants in 15 countries totalling almost 8 500 MW.