Nandu D BhulaExclusive interview with Nandu D Bhula, CEO Acwa Power SolAfrica Bokpoort CSP Power Plant. The project won the African Community Project of the Year Award at the 2015 African Utility Week Industry Awards.

Can you give us some background on the Bokpoort CSP project?  Who are your partners, what is the goal generation capacity and where is the project in terms of its timeline?
Bokpoort CSP is an IPP project on the DOE’s Bid round 2 that is located 125km southeast of Upington. It has a maximum capacity of 50MW and it is equipped with a 9.3 thermal storage system that acts like a “rechargeable battery” that allows production not only in the day but also at night.

The main shareholder is Acwa Power, a Saudi Arabian company with local partners being the Public Investment Corporation and Lereko Metier. The plant successfully connected to the grid for the first time in November 2015 and will be fully commercial in February 2016.

Right from the beginning, there was a strong emphasis on community involvement. How did you go about doing this?
The ACWA Power investment model requires focus on community from the onset, i.e. construction phase. Projects of this nature typically start injecting funds into communities as part of their CSI commitments after revenues starts coming in but not in the case of Bokpoort.

The project started investing in the surrounding community from the start of construction. The Bokpoort team conducted community engagement sessions where the community expressed their needs and together with the support of the local leadership, projects of value to the community were identified and executed. Bokpoort has continued in this way to contribute to and be part of the community and plans to do so for the long-term.

Any specific community involvement projects that have been particularly rewarding for you as project managers and for the community?
As the area has several socio-economic challenges and in particular families without water or electricity, our investments in these areas have been particularly rewarding. The first focus area was to address the issue of homes in the community that did not have electricity and where essentially their whole lifestyle were constrained as a result.

In additional these communities had enthusiastic kids that wanted to learn and wanted the opportunity to succeed but were struggling to do homework or study because they had no lights at night. Furthermore, there was on average, a fire per house every month as a result of the usage of and dependency on candles and or paraffin.

This was seen as a high risk to the lives of this community.

So, with the donation of 305 PV panels with storage to homes in the local Duineveldt community, Bokpoort has brought light into their homes, people’s lifestyles have changed, kids can now study at night without needing candlelight, they are doing better in school and already have possibilities of improving their livelihoods.

This was also an initiative to connect this community with the rest of the world through televisions as each PV panel kit was supplied and installed with a television set, a cellphone charger, inside lights and one outside light.

The next focus area was access to potable water. Our Topline Water Reticulation project has delivered potable water for the first time to the 77 homes in the area through the design and implementation of a full water reticulation system integrated into the nearby municipality feed.

This project was also done through the empowerment of a local entrepreneur with full local labour. Both these Projects have been rewarding as they have made a huge impact in the lives of the local community.

What have been the main challenges in this project?
One of the biggest challenges we have had to overcome was the ability to get local skills to the level that is expected in order to be productively employed and meet our socio-economic development objectives.

Difficulties finding the necessary skill sets nearby meant greater effort in On-the-Job training and focus in up skilling through sponsoring technical training courses at the existing local training center and then absorbing all graduates into the construction teams. To date, close to 200 trainees have completed semi-skills training.

The Project has tough economic development obligations, in particular the need to employ the local community within a 50km radius but through this strategy we have successfully accomplished this with around 40% of total workforce from local communities in the Kheis Municipality and around 90% from greater Northern Cape and surrounding provinces.

In addition, ACWA Power’s goal from the onset was primarily to boost local skills and a full suite of projects were implemented in this regard.

From providing computers to schools in the area with full internet access, providing educational materials to nursery schools in the seven feeder communities of the project, to the provision of several bursaries to start formal training for locals with the aim to have in five years, a power plant fully managed by Local Kheis! Municipality staff.

You won the coveted African Community Award of the Year at the African Utility Week Industry Awards last year.  What did this award mean to you and for the project?
The mission of ACWA Power through projects like Bokpoort and others to follow is not just about solar development, it’s about a long-term commitment to the community.

Bokpoort has set a new standard in community involvement and contribution and therefore winning the African Community Project of the Year award not only recognises our dedication towards dealing with socio-economic issues in the areas we invest in, but also encourages us to do more.

Anything you would like to add?
The Northern Cape is blessed with an abundant solar resource and our country has a hunger for renewable energy and solar technology options have high localization potential. The cost per kWh will only get cheaper and cheaper as we continue developing projects like Bokpoort in the area.

This will bring increased knowledge and competency in the industry and more importantly, jobs. The Bokpoort Project has spent over R1.6billion in local content through the project alone. This, with the focus on high local employment, has transformed the economy of the area.

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