The 50 MW De Aar solar photovoltaic (PV) project site has reached peak construction and its developers are optimistic that the project is on track to meet all critical milestones ahead of its official commercial operation date of April 2014.
The project was among the first 18 solar PV projects, collectively representing 632 MW of capacity, to reach financial close in November 2012 as part of the South Africa's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) - in all, 28 renewables projects reached financial close last year, followed by a further 19 in May this year.
Construction of the De Aar project began in December and is expected to continue for 16 months.
A consortium comprising Globeleq, Mainstream Renewable Power, Thebe Investment Corporation, the Rebuna Litsatsi Trust, Enzani Technologies and Usizo Engineering is developing the project. The consortium has employed Siemens South Africa as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor.
Project manager Savva Antoniadis tells Engineering News Online that the project is about 55% complete with about 280 individuals currently on site installing panels, as well as the associated infrastructure and systems.
Most of the employees are from the De Aar area and have been drawn from a database established together with the Emthanjeni municipality, which also owns the 100 ha property on which the project is located.
German mounting-systems specialist Schletter has installed the tables that will eventually hold some 167 580, 290 W- 295 W-rated solar panels, which have been supplied by Suntech, of China.
Seventy-six Siemens inverters have also arrived in South Africa and are due to be transported to site in early June, having already been installed by New Era Containers, of Johannesburg, into dust and water-resistant containers.
Antoniadis says the next milestones include installing the inverters, the completion of the Eskom substation and linking it to the 132 kV distribution system, as well as the installation of a 50 MVA transformer. Thereafter, field tests and plant commissioning will begin.
"The site is a sea of blue," quips Globeleq South Africa MD, Mark Pickering, who notes that similarly positive progress has been made on the consortium's other two projects.
The projects include the 50 MW Droogfontein solar PV power project, 15 km outside Kimberley, in the Northern Cape, as well as the 138 MW Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm project, in the Eastern Cape - the shareholders are identical across all three projects save for the community trusts.
"The good news is that, for a new industry, things are going incredibly smoothly. The South African construction industry is taking the renewables programme in its stride," Pickering says. Consortium members are, thus, eyeing participation in upcoming REIPPPP opportunities.
The Department of Energy recently released a request for proposals for the third bidding round, with the second bid-window projects having reached financial close on May 9.
A bid-submission deadline of August 19 has been set for the third window, along with tightened local-content and economic-development requirements across all technologies.
The preferred bidders should be named on October 29, while the power purchase, connection, direct and implementation agreements should be finalised on July 30, 2014.