Being the only concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) power plant of its kind in South Africa currently, independent power producer Pele Energy Group senior asset manager Ziska Mc Gilton says the 36 MW ac Touwsrivier CPV project is continuously providing economic upliftment and support for surrounding communities.
“The basic principle of a CPV system is that it converts light energy into electrical energy, as conventional PV technology does, but using an advanced optical system which allows for focusing a large area of sunlight onto a tiny high-efficiency solar cell.”
The technology mainly consists of high-efficiency, triple-junction solar cells based on nonsilicon semiconductors, silicon-on-glass Fresnel lenses with a sunlight concentration ratio of about 500 and copper heat sinks for the passive cooling of the solar cells.
CPV panels must be mounted on trackers to keep the focal point on the cell as the sun moves across the sky, she indicates.
By doing so, CPV is providing concentrating solar modules with the highest efficiencies on the PV market, with up to 29.8% under concentrated standard test conditions, about twice the average of crystalline PV modules (about 16%).
Mc Gilton is quite pleased with the outcome of the project thus far, noting that the company has a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with State-owned power utility Eskom and, therefore, its measures of success are long term.
The project invests 1.6% of its yearly revenues in developing the skills base of the community through funding bursaries, internships, accredited training programmes and enterprise development support.
This has meant that the project can support upwards of 20 young people through its bursary programme. There are no limitations to what this bursary enables participants to study, but the company does encourage pursuing scarce technical skills.
Since its inception in 2014, the project has also ensured that upwards of 15 young people are placed in year-long internships. It has also provided accredited training for start-ups on a yearly basis and support for existing small, medium-sized and microenterprises (SMMEs) through advice and funding to enter new markets.
Pele Green Energy is also embarking on a programme to make Touwsrivier a community industrialisation zone, through which the company expects to bring in manufacturers that will create jobs and supplier opportunities for the SMME sector.
“It is through this growing skills base that the community of Touwsrivier will be able to participate in the economy and lead the continuous development of their town over time,” notes Mc Gilton.
She further points out that, owing to these activities, the project is identified by the community as being a beneficial economic developer. “It complements the existing railway industries by creating employment opportunities, but more importantly through its socioeconomic and enterprise development investments.”
Moreover, Mc Gilton mentions that the project has also provided an opportunity for black-owned companies like Pele Green Energy to emerge, which she emphasises as “critical”. She posits that, unlike all other economic sectors, renewable energy is an arena where black South Africans have had a more level playing field, as the renewable-energy expertise was historically not in South Africa.
The Touwsrivier CPV power plant is located in Breede Valley, about 12 km to the south‐west of Touwsrivier, on the N1, about 150 km north-east of Cape Town.
Mc Gilton informs that this project succeeded in the first bid window for projects initiated through the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, developed to encourage private investment to help further develop the renewable-energy sector in South Africa.
This project was awarded preferred bidder status on December 6, 2011, reached financial close on November 5, 2012, and construction started in early 2013.
With commercial operation starting in December 2014, this project has been supplying energy to Eskom’s grid for almost three years under a 20-year PPA. The project will provide about 23 000 homes with energy.
Mc Gilton says this project provides a reliable source of energy, producing in line with modelled energy yield, with high availability.
CPV used for this project surpasses renewable-energy solutions, such as concentrated solar power or PV, as it is cheaper than the former and more efficient than the latter. It is also ideal for the regional climate of its location, owing to high irradiation.