Solar farm construction to begin after grid allocation

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 09 Nov 2023
David McDonald, CEO of SolarAfrica.
David McDonald, CEO of SolarAfrica.

Renewable energy firm SolarAfrica is preparing to start construction of its solar farm project in the Northern Cape, after the issuance of an Eskom grid allocation budget quote (BQ).

The Eskom BQ is part of the utility’s plan to add more renewable energy megawatts from independent power producers to the grid, in order to meet demand and ensure the security of the national energy supply.

As one of the renewable energy providers to receive a BQ under the Energy Action Plan, SolarAfrica says it worked hard to meet all of Eskom’s criteria.

The most important of these is having customers signed up and ready to consume wheeled energy via the virtual power purchase agreements (VPPAs), it notes.

Companies that have already signed up for SolarAfrica’s VPPAs include Vantage Data Centres, Attacq and NCP Chlorchem. The doors are now open for more businesses across the country to benefit from its wheeling project, it says.

Electricity wheeling allows privately-generated power to be transmitted across the national grid to customers that need it, in a willing buyer/willing seller model.

“Securing this type of grid capacity for wheeled energy is a game-changer,” says David McDonald, CEO of SolarAfrica.

“Typically, a vast majority of grid capacity is already allocated to mega institutions and large-scale, energy-intensive operations. With our suite of solutions and our wheeling arrangements, we can provide power to a wider variety of commercial and industrial businesses to help them save substantially on their electricity bills, while significantly improving their carbon footprint.”

The City of Cape Town, Discovery Group and Vodacom are among those that have introduced electricity wheeling projects as power utility Eskom battles to provide SA with an uninterrupted power supply.

The Energy Action Plan outlines a set of actions aimed at stabilising Eskom and adding as much new generation capacity as possible to close the gap in electricity supply.

The plan has five key pillars: fix Eskom and improve the availability of existing supply; enable and accelerate private investment in generation capacity; fast-track the procurement of new generation capacity from renewables, gas and battery storage; unleash businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar; and fundamentally transform the electricity sector to achieve long-term energy security.

SolarAfrica says over the next few months, it will scale its wheeling project by breaking ground to build its first solar farm: SunCentral, in De Aar, Northern Cape.

SunCentral will consist of three phases, with a total of up to 1GW in available allocation. The first phase will offer around 300MW generated by more than 560 000 solar panels, says the company.

Once completed, the site will allow SolarAfrica to wheel solar energy generated in De Aar to various commercial and industrial businesses across SA before the company commences phase two.

“This achievement underscores the immense potential of solar energy in South Africa. While space is limited and allocated to businesses on a first-come, first-served basis, we are working to make sure we can offer wheeling that is affordable, flexible and sustainable to as many of our customers as possible throughout each phase of the project,” comments McDonald.

SolarAfrica says it plans various similar projects across the country.