Integrated solar power producer Solairedirect Southern Africa reports that it is involved in the development of three multiphase photovoltaic (PV) projects under the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) renewable-energy feed-in tariff (Refit) programme.
The initial phase is estimated to cost R350-million for each of the plants, with project locations, of about 20 ha each, already having been identified in the Northern Cape and the Western Cape.
During the first round of the Refit programme, the company intends to submit the projects for inclusion and to secure 10 MW for each plant. It plans to apply for expansions of the plants during the subsequent rounds of the programme.
“The size of these expansions will be determined by the capacity allocated for PV solar projects under the future Refit programme, which is dependent on the completion of the Integrated Resources Plan 2010,” explains Solairedirect Southern Africa MD Ryan Hammond.
Solairedirect expects the three projects combined to generate 100 MW after all three phases of the Refit programme have been implemented.
The construction of each PV project involves clearing and preparing the site to install the security fencing, the frames to hold 40 000 PV modules and the PV modules, as well as the construction of the electrical plant, which comprises invertors, transformers and electrical control equipment.
“The process is quick and is expected to take eight or nine months from the start of construction until the testing of the plant is completed. “The commissioning of the plant depends on the completion of the grid connection, which should take place in parallel with the construction of the plant. “At worst, Solairedirect expects each plant to be completed in under a year,” says Hammond.
The company is awaiting the issuing of a request for proposals from the DoE, which is expected in April. Assuming everything goes well, Solairedirect expects construction of the PV plants to start in January 2012.
The company is also interested in participating in the DoE’s proposed 5 GW solar park, in the Northern Cape, which could involve a total investment of more than R20-billion.
Roof-Based Solar Systems
Hammond expects a significant percentage of the company’s work this year to involve the installation of roof-based solar systems, ranging between 30 kW and just under 1 MW in the commercial and industrial sectors.
“There has been increased activity in the industrial sector, which comprises businesses with relatively large roof space, which are being negatively affected by State-owned power utility Eskom’s electricity tariff hikes and want to futureproof the cost of their electricity,” he explains.
Solairedirect has also been involved in the installation of solar systems in the agriculture sector.
“We forget how reliant this sector is on electricity, particularly in terms of irrigation and refrigeration and, with Eskom implementing tariff increases of 25% a year, for the next two years at least, farmers are concerned about whether their businesses will remain viable,” says Hammond.
He adds that the agricultural sector is probably one of the key industries investing in the future of PV solar technology, as it provides farmers with security in terms of operational cost forecasts.
“With the cost of solar technology decreasing and the cost of Eskom-generated electricity increasing, solar technology enables farmers to determine the cost of their electricity over a 25-year period, bringing certainty to their planning and budgeting,” notes Hammond.
The payback period of a PV system is between five and eight years, depending on the quality of the system installed, its location and how optimally it is aligned with the sun.
If farmers undertake electricity-intensive activities, such as irrigation, during the day, the solar PV system could displace 70% to 80% of a farm’s overall electricity consumption. However, during seasons when the refrigeration of crops is required 24 hours a day, farmers will be dependent on Eskom-generated power at night. Nonetheless, this results in an average yearly electricity saving of 50%, says Hammond.
“Investing in solar technology is starting to make commercial sense and no longer only meets a company’s need to be environment friendly,” he concludes.