Developed on a remote site 50 km south-west of Prieska, in the Northern Cape, the 86 MW Mulilo-Sonnedix-Prieska photovoltaic (PV) project was connected to the national grid in October, on schedule and within budget, thus achieving full grid code compliance in good time for commercial operation.
The PV installation, which took 14 months to complete, stretches across 125 ha and is valued at R1.4-billion.
Greg Austin, MD of juwi Renewable Energies, the Mulilo-Sonnedix-Prieska project’s developer, says it is the biggest solar PV engineering, procurement and construction project delivered in such a remote location by the company. “We have now entered the operations and maintenance phase and look forward to ensuring the guaranteed performance on behalf of the owners.”
He adds that juwi Renewable Energies has received “excellent feedback” from State-owned power utility Eskom’s grid access unit and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa’s renewable energy technical evaluation committee regarding its grid code compliance planning and execution.
The energy derived from the project – capable of powering 86 000 homes – is believed to be the first PV project under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme to gain grid code compliance prior to reaching commercial operation, according to juwi Renewable Energies.
However, even though the Northern Cape is “one of the best irradiation areas in the world and has enormous future energy generation potential”, Austin says the grid connection in the region, as with projects in other areas in the country, is a significant challenge. “You cannot export power without a suitable grid and, hence, the limitations of the grid act as an inhibitor which the Department of Energy, as well as all industry stakeholders, should be addressing more urgently.”
He says the operation and maintenance task is a core business of juwi Renewable Energies. “We understand that peace of mind for the investors, lenders and owners over the 20-year life span of a project is important, enabling them to achieve their returns on investment.”
Austin highlights that being the operator and maintainer of the project is a business model that derisks the project for the owners. “We ensure a plannable revenue model and margins on the back of long-term contracts and we have an excellent international track record with local competence. Our rigorous 24/7 monitoring reduces the risk for the owners and investors.”
Redundancy is built into juwi Renewable Energies’ systems, with plant monitoring taking place on site – in South Africa and Germany. The financial contracts underpinning projects stipulate 99% availability, making it imperative that the company solve issues immediately.
The local community benefits in various ways from such a project, he says, pointing out that electrical and civils company Quebar Electrical & Civil Construction performed the quality checks on 275 000 modules and currently undertakes the operation and maintenance service on site.
Further, through the project period, 1 720 people were employed, of which 911 came from local communities.