Using over 200 000 amorphous silicon thin-film solar photovoltaics (PV) modules, the De Aar 3 solar power plant with a capacity of 85MW has been completed.

Installing solar panels in De Aar
Installing solar panels in De Aar

The $232 million EPC contract commenced construction in January 2013, and reportedly employed some 500 people, mostly from the De Aar community, installing around 3 000 panels per day during the peak construction phase.

Now complete, the project will supply power to public utility, Eskom, under a 20-year power purchase agreement, awarded in the s

econd round of South Africa’s renewable energy independent power producer procurement (REIPPP) programme. The estimated annual generation is 150 000MWh.

Project funding and joint venture

The project was undertaken by Solar Capital De Aar, a joint venture between Italian renewable energy developer, Moncada Energy Group, and solar funder, Solar Capital Group. The plant’s funding was administrated by Solar Capital’s South Africa subsidiary, Phelan Energy Group, and the project was built by Moncada subsidiary, Costruzioni Moncada South Africa.

Moncada and Solar Capital provided 25% of the funding with the remainder being funded by South Africa’s Standard Bank.

The joint venture between Moncada and Solar Capital began in October 2011 to realise seven PV projects, with a final pipeline of 520MW, between 2012 and 2016. Moncada CEO, Salvatore Moncada, said the project was completed ‘despite the present situation of severe economic crisis and other challenges.’

Key project site specifics

  • Total farm extent: 2674 hectares
  • Total project site extent: 265 hectares
  • Global horizontal irradiation: 2168
  • Eskom assets traversing site: 132kV Eskon line traverses the site
  • Distance to nearest Eskom substation: situated on the farm

The De Aar 3 project is the latest of the multi-megawatt utility-scale PV plants now starting to reach completion in South Africa under the REIPPP programme.

While South Africa has a number of solar-powered energy plants scattered across the country, the De Aar 3 plant is said to be the largest solar farm in South Africa using thin-film modules.

Sitting on 265 hectares of desert sand, the project will be able to generate 150 000MWh per year for 35 000 households, through a contract signed with electricity provider Eskom. Under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, Eskom agreed to purchase electricity from the plant for the next 20 years.

Increase of renewables on a global scale

As the world’s combustible energy sources and oil supplies are busy being depleted, many companies and nations have turned to implementing renewable energy sources for the last couple of years.

Solar power has emerged as the most cost effective way to jump start investment into renewable energy solutions. One of the main rationales for increased investment is that the technology can be used to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In terms of the largest photovoltaic power stations in the world, South Africa is dwarfed by the rest of the world. The Topaz Solar Farm in the US produces 500MW of nominal power (compared to South Africa’s 85MW), while the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China produces 320MW.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in a recent report, cited that wind, solar and other renewable power capacity were continuously developing on a global scale, and were now responsible for approximately 22% of the world’s electricity. In 2013 alone more than $250 billion was invested in “green” power generating technologies, and more key entities were encouraging higher levels of investments, saying that renewable energy sources were necessary elements to achieve global energy security.

Sources: PV Tech, Phelan Energy Group