Northern Cape-based 10 MW solar plant first to exploit broadened wheeling market

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BY: DONNA SLATER – CREAMER MEDIA CONTRIBUTING EDITOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER

A 10 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant developed by renewable energy plant developer SOLA Group, in the Northern Cape, has reached commercial operation three months ahead of schedule, providing clean energy to Amazon Web Services through wheeling into the Eskom grid.

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The plant comprises over 24 000 bifacial single-axis sun-tracking modules, covering an area of 20 ha.

The plant design will result in over 25 000 t/y of carbon dioxide emissions being avoided, the equivalent of taking 5 400 cars off of the road for a year, according to SOLA Group.

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SOLA Group CEO Dom Wills says the project, which will provide over 28-million kilowatt-hours a year of clean electricity, is the first operational large-scale solar PV wheeling project in South Africa to be undertaken since the 100 MW threshold limit was lifted in August, thereby making it easier for entities to more easily wheel energy through Eskom’s grid.

“. . . the model is futuristic: it uses Eskom’s grid to connect private buyers and sellers, making the way for more choice and competition. It is the first step in creating grid independence where private buyers and sellers of energy can trade with each other,” he says.

Wheeling is a financial transaction that enables power to be produced in one location and effectively sold and billed to an energy user in another location. This is beneficial in South Africa, as renewable energy power can be located in a region where that resource (such as high solar irradiance or sufficient wind) is prevalent and provide a low-carbon alternative to coal-fired power without needing to be geographically located at or near the site of use.

Both wheeling and the lifting of the licensing-exemption limit for distributed generation could also help South Africa significantly in terms of reaching its carbon emission reductions targets, which are at the forefront of discussions at the COP26 climate change summit.

LOCALISED ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The project is more than 63% black-owned, with investor Mahlako a Phahla Investments holding an interest in the project.

“This is a significant positioning for our fund . . . showcasing our commitment to growing our portfolio to bring about desired returns for our investors, and our confidence in the renewable energy space as a viable and attractive sector for local investors,” says Mahlako a Phahla Investments director Makole Mupita.

The SOLA Group is a fully South African-owned company, including a 40% shareholding by black investor African Rainbow Energy and Power, which has been developing, building and operating solar PV projects since the first round of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.

“It is immensely important that, while we are rebuilding energy generation in South Africa, we are also developing South African companies and skills,” says Wills.

During construction, the SOLA plant created 167 jobs, 63% of which were from the local surrounding area, and it will sustain permanent jobs for its lifetime in electrical maintenance, cleaning and security.

Wood-based waste generated during construction, including pallets and electrical cable drums, were donated to local furniture businesses and special skills schools, to further bolster the small, medium-sized and microenterprise contributions of the project. 

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