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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

South Africa's 5 GW Solar Park: Energy focus moves to Prieska


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Due to land related challenges, the Department of Energy (DoE) in South Africa is changing the site for the first solar park of its ambitious renewable energy project – the proposed 5 GW Northern Cape solar corridor.

Initially the location of the first solar park was to have been Upington, but it is now to be Prieska, a town where positive pre-feasibility studies have been conducted.

Minister of Energy, Dipuo Peters explains: “The solar park is following a corridor design method which means it will be rolled out in different phases and areas within the Northern Cape. It is true that our intention was to start at Upington, but we experienced challenges with land accessibility and we decided to start in Prieska while resolving matters in Upington.”

The ‘Request for proposal document’ for the Prieska feasibility consultant tender outlines the definition of a solar park as “a concentrated zone of solar development that includes thousands of megawatts of generation capacity.”

It continues: “Individual solar plants developed by multiple power producers are constructed on the land in a clustered fashion and on a predictable timeline, sharing common transmission and infrastructure.”

The objective is for the project to be launched with an initial Phase 1 development of 1 GW for the solar park which is targeted for completion in 2018.

Prieska is part of the SiyaThemba local municipality that has conducted preliminary studies. A Memorandum of Understanding for the implementation of the solar park initiative was signed with the Central Energy Fund (CEF) and SiyaThemba municipality in October last year.

“I would like to commend SiyaThemba municipality who, post the Solar Park Investors Conference (in 2012), undertook some exercises to confirm the outcome of the pre-feasibility, including alignment of the study with the municipality’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) particularly the local economic development planning,” Peters says.

“This process included a public participation process on Solar Development Plan with the communities, where some consensus was reached and concluded through Council Resolutions.”

In October last year, the DoE also reissued three requests for proposals (RFPs) for the appointment of feasibility study consultants, an environmental impact assessment practitioner and a geotechnical engineer. Tenders for the feasibility consultant closed on 16 November, while the other two tenders closed on 12 November.

The feasibility study for Prieska is scheduled for completion this year. If the outcomes of the study are positive, the results will be presented to Cabinet for consideration. The implementation phase is planned for 2014.

The consultant appointed will not only be responsible for a bankable level feasibility study for the establishment of the 1 GW solar park in Prieska by 2018, but also for setting out the road map for the deployment of up to 5 GW in the entire corridor by 2022.

Solar calculations

The area in which the solar corridor is to be located has some of the best (DNI) ratings in the world.

Regarding the calculation of DNI values, Upington has the advantage of existing ground measured solar data. Prieska has no existing solar measurements, and it will therefore need to rely to a greater extent on satellite data.

“A solar measurement station will need to be constructed at Prieska and data will need to be collected over approximately 12 months. This data will then need to be analysed, bankable DNI values calculated, and the feasibility report drawn up,” says Riaan Meyer, CEO of GeoSun Africa.

GeoSun Africa is part of a consortium tendering for the feasibility study. Meyer was Research Engineer for the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University when the Upington site assessment, completed in June 2011, was carried out and he played a key role in the assessment.

Other feasibility study factors to be considered

Apart from Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI), factors that need to be kept in mind when conducting a feasibility study for CSP are availability of water, the level and characteristics of the land, proximity to the existing grid, and distance from infrastructure.

Meyer says: “Many of the conditions at Prieska are very similar to those at Upington. They are both on the Orange River facilitating easy access to water, and both offer an abundance of suitable, flat land.

“Prieska however is a little more isolated than Upington. For example regarding infrastructure, it is about 250 kms from the closest airport. This though may present opportunities for construction of new infrastructure closer to Prieska. Prieska does have the advantage of being closer to the main artery between Cape Town and Mpumalanga.”

The grid can fairly easily be extended to the Prieska area enabling grid connectivity. Additional substations and transformer capacity may in any case be required over the long-term in the Northern Cape to feed renewable energy into the grid.

The intention is for the Prieska solar park to have a dry cooled power plant as opposed to wet cooled making it a more viable option on the water-starved Northern Cape.

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