Independent project developer Scatec Solar formally launched a 75 MW solar farm, which forms part of the South African government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), in the Kalkbult region of the Northern Cape on Tuesday.
The solar power plant was the first utility-scale renewable-energy facility to supply electricity to State-owned entity Eskom and was set to provide 135-million kilowatt-hours a year, which is equivalent to the yearly electricity consumption of 33 000 households.
Construction of the project, which was fully commissioned in ten months by September – three months ahead of schedule – started in November 2012.
“We are extremely proud to have been awarded this project under the REIPPPP and are proud to be the first renewable-energy plant to come on-line,” said Scatec Solar CEO Raymond Carlsen.
The Kalkbult plant, he noted, covered 105 ha of a working sheep farm and was leased from the farmer. There were 312 000 solar panels mounted on 156 km of substructure linked to inverters, transformers and a high-voltage substation.
The plant was among 47 solar, wind and minihydro projects awarded 20-year contracts to generate electricity under the first two rounds of the REIPPPP. The total investment of these projects was estimated at R74-billion and was set to climb above R100-billion as a further 17 projects had been awarded preferred-bidder status in round three of the REIPPPP.
Equity for the Kalkbult project was provided by Scatec Solar, as well as Norwegian investment fund provider Norfund, finance company Simacel, financial services provider Stanlib and insurance provider Old Mutual.
“Access to energy is required for a high standard of living and South Africa is showing the rest of Africa how to create and maintain a sustainable solar plant,” said Scatec Solar chairperson and founder Dr Alf Bjorseth at the launch.
“Hopefully, South Africa will provide solar energy and technology to the rest of Africa and the world in the future, rather than relying on foreign investors,” said Carlsen.
During construction, the solar project employed about 600 people, 16% of whom were women. “The number of people employed during operations and maintenance will be between 10 and 15 people, but this phase will be accompanied by a 20-year collaboration with local communities and the development of social and economic initiatives focused on areas such as education and health,” he explained.
Carlsen further highlighted that renewable energy could work in harmony with the environment to not disrupt the surrounding farming activities, noting that the sheep on the farm would continue to graze among the solar panels, which would help regulate the grass growth in the area.
Meanwhile, Scatec Solar is working on a 40 MW plant near Hannover, in the Northern Cape, as well as a 75 MW plant near Burgersdorp, in the Eastern Cape, which are both scheduled for commission in 2014 and will improve the electricity generation performance in South Africa.
Of the 27 solar photovoltaic plants awarded in the REIPPPP, which have a combined installed capacity of 1 048 MW, Scatec Solar accounted for three plants with a combined installed capacity of 190 MW.