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Sep 30, 2011

Renewable-energy producer completes construction of first solar park

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Solar power provider Solairedirect Southern Africa has completed the construction of its first mini solar park and plans to invest a further R10-million to R15-million in the local renewable-energy sector over the next 18 to 24 months.

Construction on the 30 MW mini solar park, located near Groblershoop, in the Northern Cape, started in June and was completed at the end of July. The company invested just under R1-million on the project.

Solairedirect MD Ryan Hammond notes that it undertook the project to achieve two goals: firstly, as a trial run of the construction process for future, larger projects and, secondly, to compare the performance of various solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies.

Temperature has a significant impact on the performance of PV products and Solairedirect wanted to create a facility where it could install different types of PV technologies, such as thin film, monocrystalline and polycrystalline, from different module manufacturers, and run a comparative test of their performance in a high-temperature environment.

The solar park is modest in size, measuring a total of less than 1 ha. The generated power is primarily being used by the owner of the farm on which the park is located, but Solairedirect believes there is space for future expansion.

About 120 jobs were created across the project development, engineering, construction and manufacturing functions.

The company used local contractors to supply the bulk of the services required as part of its commitment to developing the local supply chain and promoting local manufacture.

Further, Hammond notes that Solairedirect is in the midst of a fairly aggressive recruitment campaign and expects to grow its staff contingent by between 15 and 20 people by mid-2012.

He says the company has been fortunate not to face any demanding challenges regarding skills in the renewable-energy sector. Members of its staff include key players involved in the construction of the Gautrain, whose skills carry over fairly readily to the construction of solar parks, says Hammond.

He too has spent a few years in the renewable- energy sector in Europe and Solairedirect is also able to rely on the expertise of its parent company in France.

Investment
Solairedirect has invested R40-million towards the construction of the test park facility, a manufacturing plant in Cape Town and additional development opportunities.

Hammond points out that the company has an aggressive project development portfolio, which requires a significant amount of capital that is currently being invested. In years to come, the group is set to continue investing in the South African renewable-energy market.

Plans are in place to invest a further R10-million to R15-million in the next two years. Beyond that, investment in manufacturing will depend on how successful the company is in getting its product selected by the Department of Energy (DoE).

“From a PV perspective, we are encouraged by government’s commitment to what we believe is the most viable renewable technology with potential for a broad range of applications,” says Hammond.

Solairedirect Southern Africa has several projects of about 10 MW each, which it hopes to build as part of government’s renewable- energy procurement programme.

The company is preparing for November 4, this year, when the first round of bid submis- sions for the DoE’s Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme closes.

The programme is aimed at securing 3 725 MW of renewable-energy capacity.

Of this, the DoE allocated 1 850 MW of capacity for onshore wind, 200 MW for concentrating solar thermal, 1 450 MW for solar PV, 12.5 MW each for biomass and biogas, 25 MW for landfill gas, 75 MW for small hydro, and 100 MW for electricity generation projects of less than 5 MW.

Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
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