Acciona Energía has put the Sishen solar photovoltaic plant into service. With its 216 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity generation per year, it will have the highest level of production of all the plants that are operational in Africa.
ACCIONA holds a majority stake in the plant, the first photovoltaic facility built by the company in South Africa, a market with high growth potential in the renewable energy sector.
The plant, with a peak capacity of 94.3 megawatts (MWp) – 74 nominal MW – is located in the municipality of Dibeng in Northern Cape province (in the north-west of the country). The area’s exceptional solar resource and the plant’s layout, with horizontal tracking structures that allow the photovoltaic (PV) panels to capture more radiation by following the sun’s trajectory across the sky. As a result, the plant will produce electricity equivalent to the consumption of around 100,000 South African households a year, avoiding the emission of 208,000 metric tons of C02 from conventional coal-fired power stations to the atmosphere.
Covering around 250 hectares, the facility consists of 470 solar trackers that support 319,600 photovoltaic modules. If they were lined up straight, the rows of panels in each structure – seventeen 41-meter-long beams – would cover 327 kilometers. The production from the plant will be sent to the South African state owned power utility Eskom via the power grid, under a long-term energy purchase and sale (PPA) contract.
“The start-up of Sishen is a major milestone for us, as it is the biggest photovoltaic plant built by our company in the world and our first renewable facility in South Africa, a country in which we expect to increase our presence considerably”, says ACCIONA Energía CEO Rafael Mateo. “We are pleased to be contributing to compliance with South Africa’s objectives in achieving a more sustainable energy system, creating jobs and added value in the country in the process”, he adds.
1,000 jobs created in the construction phase
The Sishen project was approved by the South African Energy Department in the second round of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP), devised to increase the participation of renewables in the country’s energy mix, currently dominated by coal. The objective of REIPPPP is to award power purchase agreements to renewable energy projects for an overall capacity of 3,725 MW to be installed by the end of 2016 over five rounds of bidding; bid round five is expected to be announced in 2015.
The reference partners in the consortium that owns Sishen are ACCIONA Energía (51% of the capital) and the South African infrastructures company Aveng (29%). The other partners are Soul City Broad-Based Empowerment Company (SCBBEC) – a subsidiary of the Soul City Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting health and social change – and Local Community Trust, a community development organization. Both hold a 10% stake.
The building work, carried out under an EPC contract by a joint venture between ACCIONA Energía and Aveng, started in August 2013 and has been completed with the start-up of the facility in late November 2014. During the months of greatest activity the construction of the plant has meant the creation of around 1,000 jobs.
South Africa is a strategic country for ACCIONA Energía. The company is now completing the construction of a 138 MW wind farm in Western Cape province, awarded in the second round of the REIPPPP. It is also working on a number of wind and photovoltaic projects while intensifying its activity in the marketing of wind turbines.
Another Group Division -ACCIONA Infraestructure- is also participating in the construction of the Bokpport solar thermal plant in South Africa. This 50 MW project in Northern Cape province is headed by the Saudi group ACWA Power.
With the entry into service of Sishen, ACCIONA Energia now owns and operates power generation plants in 15 countries totaling almost 8,500 MW.