RENEWABLE ENERGY GENERATION OPTIMISATION AND INNOVATION

In recent years, South Africa has taken tentative steps toward diversifying its energy portfolio to provide alternative power that is sustainable and affordable. This strategy, for an inclusive energy mix, needs additional capacity from renewables to be a top priority; however, utility-scale projects call for a substantial land footprint.

The Northern Cape Province in South Africa has the largest geographical footprint compared to all provinces in the country. This is according to the South African Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (IPPPP) Office, who noted in a 2015 Quarterly review that given the province’s large surface area, low population density – 1.16 million people or 2.2% of the total 53.8 million South Africans – limited agriculture potential (concentrated in the Orange River Valley) and extraordinarily high radiation levels, it is an optimal environment for clean power generation: Solar and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) in particular.

The Karoshoek Solar Farm – Ilanga-1 CSP – located in Upington, was primarily established as part of the solution to South Africa’s Northern Cape’s need for cleaner energy. The project owner, Karoshoek Solar One (RF) Proprietary Limited, together with the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) partners SENER, Cobra and Emvelo, successfully completed the project on time, within budget and within the required quality standards. The project was executed in line with the contracted output performance and within acceptable safety standards. In December 2019, South Africa celebrated the first year of operation of the renewable energy plant, which has been supplying clean energy to the national grid since November 2018.

The EPC partners reached the certificate to initiate commercial operation of the turnkey solar thermal power plant project located at Karoshoek, Solar Valley on 30 November 2018. This means the conclusion of construction, commissioning and testing of the 100 MWe CSP plant was achieved. The plant has officially been handed over to the owner, Karoshoek where the plant is contracted to supply electricity to the national grid through a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with the state-owned power utility Eskom.

It is estimated that Ilanga-1 will supply clean and dispatchable energy to around 100,000 homes and save 90,000 tonnes of CO2 per year over a period of 20 years. The plant comprises 266 loops, with approximately 870,000 square metres of curved mirrors, using SENERtrough® loops and parabolic troughs designed and patented by SENER and with a thermal storage capacity of 1,250 MWth, five hours, thanks to the use of a molten salt storage system. This is a unique characteristic of CSP that radically changes the role of renewable sources in the global power supply.

According to Siyabonga Mbanjwa, regional managing director for SENER Southern Africa, the project represents a historic landmark in showcasing the results that the renewable sector can achieve and the possibilities that exist when our climate realities are taken into account when selecting energy sources for the country and continent.

According to Jose Minguillon, CEO of Cobra South Africa, the plant is an important step in South Africa’s energy future, procuring on-demand power from an efficient and accountable source with no resource risk and a controlled tariff.

The CSP plant has no fuel costs or harmful emissions and has created employment for many people in the area of Upington. The EPC partners have praised the level of localisation, BBBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment), skills development and job creation that was achieved on the project. It is a clear indication of what is possible if the CSP industry can be nurtured and allowed to flourish in South Africa.

Pancho Ndebele, founder of Emvelo, says this is the first CSP plant in the history of the South African Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) that was conceived and developed by a 100% black-owned South African entity. This demonstrates that black industrialists can lead in the development and execution of large renewable energy infrastructure projects. In line with government’s four accords, emanating from the New Growth Path (NGP); namely basic education, skills development, local procurement and the green economy, approximately 1,500 jobs were created during the construction phase. Recently, a technical training course for 50 prospective employees at the plant, located in Karoshoek almost 30km east of Upington, were completed and further local socioeconomic development was done by the EPC consortium, in the nearby communities located a stone’s throw away from the plant.