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More (solar) power to the people of Limpopo

Aneesa Fazel

South Africa will soon have the capacity to provide approximately 58 megawatts of solar energy to 8 000 households in Limpopo.

South Africa will soon have the capacity to provide approximately 58 megawatts of solar energy to 8 000 households in Limpopo. (AFP)

A R2.6-billion financial closure was announced on Wednesday by MEMC subsidiary SunEdison, the US solar energy service provider who will provide two solar parks in Limpopo.

The project will be run in partnership with Chint Solar and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), with Standard Bank and Future Growth Investment as debt providers on the project.

These photovoltaic power plants will be based in Soutpan and Witkop and is expected to create close to 5 000 direct and indirect job opportunities.

SunEdison develops finances, installs and operates distributed power plants using photovoltaic technologies, which converts sunlight into energy. It has over 800 power plants globally, and in 2011 alone had interconnected 300 megawatts of solar worldwide.

SunEdison vice-president Pashupathy Gopalan said: "This is a momentous occasion for us and South Africa. Solar energy used to be expensive, but every year it is getting cheaper and more countries are becoming interested in this form of energy use. Soon, we will be passing housing solar plants".

Construction on both projects is expected to commence in January 2013, but will interconnect by early 2014 only. These time frames could change depending on unexpected delays in construction, deployment or activation.

Witkop solar park will have the capacity of 30 megawatts and Soutpan 28 megawatts. The solar projects are centred on the ground mount system, which involves steel or aluminium frames attached to a concrete foundation. Photovoltaic modules are then positioned toward the sun and are moved with trackers.

About 45% of the manufacturing of trackers for the solar parks will take place locally; the rest will be produced by Chint Solar, manufacturers of low-voltage electrical products, as well as solutions for transmission and distribution, industry automation and solar energy.

Chint Solar vice-president Chuan Lu said that South Africa has higher irradiance than other countries in the world who have invested more heavily into solar energy, and that the project was a great achievement. "We hope that our efforts will benefit the local people of South Africa economically and environmentally."

The projects were introduced after a call from the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPP), an initiative by the government that invites countries to invest in South Africa and its renewable energy production.

The project will also focus on the advancement of broad-based economic groups. "Love Life, one of the groups involved has 10% shares in the project," said Gopalan. He also said that 1.5% of the project's gains will go to socio-economic growth, "which amounts to about $19-million dollars".

PIC focuses on environmentally sustainable investment and R12-billion has already been dedicated to renewable energy space. They welcomed the investment of BBBEE groups in the project, saying the commitment was needed.

The department of energy communications officer Zodwa Batyashe said it was difficult to comment on one specific project but, "given that SunEdison participated in both window one and window two, one can only assume that they have a competitive project".

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