R12bn Kathu Solar Park goes commercial

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An aerial view of the Kathu Solar Park.
An aerial view of the Kathu Solar Park.

Commercial operations at the R12 billion Kathu Solar Park have commenced.

Located in the Northern Cape province, the 100MW Kathu solar power plant accomplished its first synchronisation to the national grid in November last year.

Constructed by SENER and ACCIONA Industrial, Kathu has an installed capacity of 100MW. It will allow clean energy to be supplied to 179 000 homes in the Northern Cape province and prevent the emission of six million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere over the next 20 years.

The new development at Kathu comes as the South African government makes strides in driving renewable energy in to the country's energy mix.

Last night in his State of the Nation Address, president Cyril Ramaphosa said ailing power utility Eskom must consider clean technologies in its turnaround strategy.

"It [Eskom's turnaround strategy] needs to take into account the role that Eskom itself should play in clean generation technologies," said Ramaphosa.

The Kathu plant incorporates SENERtrough-2 parabolic trough collectors and a molten salt storage system that enables heat from the solar park to be stored and electricity to be generated in the absence of solar radiation.

This molten salt storage system, which provides up to five hours of power generation, extends the operational capacity of the plant after sundown and on cloudy days.

"With the completion of Kathu Solar Park, we showed our firm commitment to the development of a renewable energy industry in South Africa," says Siyabonga Mbanjwa, regional managing director of SENER Southern Africa.

"Concentrated solar power (CSP), as a viable alternative to traditional baseload sources of energy, has a demonstrated alignment with South Africa's national agenda of achieving inclusive growth that includes job-creating, manufacturing, construction and rural development. Reaching commercial operation at Kathu means the energy supply to the local community is secure and demand is well managed while contributing to mitigate the effects of climate change," Mbanjwa notes.

Roberto Felipe, director of operations and production at ACCIONA Industrial, says: "At ACCIONA we are committed to renewable energies, and in particular to CSP energy. The execution of the Kathu Solar Park plant has been a success for performance objectives thanks to the excellent team involved in the project, and also for the impact it has had on the economy and population in the province of the Northern Cape in South Africa.

"This has been made possible thanks to the excellent relationship with local administrations and businesses, and with Kathu Solar Park, our client. In addition, this plant becomes our second project in the region along with the Bokpoort solar thermal plant, which consolidates us in the renewable energy market in the country."

The project is part of the South African government's Integrated Resource Programme 2010. This plan aims to increase the country's power generation capacity to 86.8GW by 2030, of which 24% will be renewable.

Kathu Solar Park was one of the projects awarded during bid window 3.5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) by the Department of Energy.

The joint venture between SENER and ACCIONA Industrial was appointed by the shareholders, which is led by ENGIE, including a group of South African investors comprising SIOC Community Development Trust, Investec Bank, Lereko Metier Sustainable Capital Fund, its co-investors FMO, the Dutch development bank and DEG, the German investment and development company and the Public Investment Corporation to provide the engineering, procurement and construction services on the project.

Construction began in May 2016 and created 1 700 jobs in peak June 2018. The Kathu solar thermal power project has also contributed to the economic development of the region by contracting local suppliers and through the KSP Social Economic Development programme and the Kelebogile Foundation, thereby significantly boosting community development in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality.

This is the second solar thermal power project jointly developed by SENER and ACCIONA in SA. The first was the 50MW Bokpoort plant (Upington), officially opened in late 2016, for which they were also part of the construction consortium.

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