Massive solar thermal electricity plant launched in South Africa

KaXu Solar One, South Africa’s first solar thermal electricity plant, opened near Pofadder in the Northern Cape on 2 March 2015.

The KaXu Solar One plant will add 100 megawatts of electricity to the national grid – the equivalent of about 320 gigawatt hours of electricity a year.

This is enough to power 80,000 houses, and can serve the needs of around 400,000 South Africans.

“In practical terms, this is the consumption of all the households in Mossel Bay, Oudshoorn, Knysna and Swellendam combined,” said Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

First solar thermal electricity plant in SA

KaXu Solar One is the first solar thermal electricity (STE) plant in South Africa. It is also the biggest of its kind in Africa and the southern hemisphere.

The plant covers an area of three square kilometres, and is made up of 1,200 collectors. Each collector has 10 modules, and each module has 28 mirrors.

In total there are 336,000 mirrors on the plant which track the sun.

STE technology allows energy to be stored for up to two-and-a-half hours in molten salt, which means power can be supplied to the national grid when it is needed most – at peak times after dark.

KaXu Solar One
KaXu Solar One
One of KaXu Solar One's 1200 collectors
One of KaXu Solar One’s 1200 collectors
Kaxu Solar One
Kaxu Solar One

How it works

The KaXu solar field has approximately 1,200 mirrored parabolic trough collectors. These collectors are about 25 feet wide, 500 feet long, and 10 feet high.

The collectors concentrate the sun’s energy onto receiver tubes that contain heat transfer fluid. Electricity is then generated with conventional steam turbines using the heated fluid.

Kaxu Solar One
Kaxu Solar One – how it works

Renewable energy investment

KaXu Solar One forms part of 33 renewable energy plants which have been opened, Patel said, and by the end of the month there will be 1,685MW of renewable energy available.

“In 12 months we have been building plants that will generate almost as much as Koeberg,” said Patel.

The total investment in the KaXu plant came in at R7.9 billion, with about R1 billion coming from Spanish group Abengoa.

The balance was supplied by the IDC, Nedbank RMB, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, and the International Finance Corporation.

KaXu is owned by Abengoa (59%), the IDC (29%), and the KaXu Community Trust (21%).

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Massive solar thermal electricity plant launched in South Africa