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Concentrix makes first move with launch of Cape solar plant

6 September 2010 – A solar plant powering a game reserve in the Western Cape was launched by Germany’s Concentrix Solar last week to demonstrate its technology ahead of a planned 50 megawatt grid-connected solar facility in the area.

The 60-kilowatt concentrated photovoltaic (PV) plant at Aquila Private Game Reserve near Touws River, comprising 900 solar modules fitted on 10 trackers, is believed to be South Africa’s biggest concentrated PV plant. Its costs were not disclosed.

Hansjorg Lerchenmuller, the chief executive and founder of Concentrix Solar, said the group had been attracted to South Africa by the country’s renewable energy feed-in tariffs, which topped up amounts paid to producers of renewable electricity in order to incentivise the clean energy market.

Of the nine renewable energy technologies for which the National Energy Regulator of SA has granted feed-in tariffs, PV systems enjoy the highest top-up rate at R3.94 per kilowatt-hour – although this applies only to large-scale gridconnected PV systems of more than 1MW. No renewable energy licences have yet been granted.

Lerchenmuller said the PV feed-in tariff was "on the high level – it is comparable to Germany and Spain". This would attract companies to take investment decisions before they were able to ramp up volumes and bring down costs.

Concentrix claims that its concentrated PV systems, under development for the past 15 years, have the highest efficiency, compared with either conventional PV or solar thermal power, as well as the largest cost reduction potential.

Andre-Jacque Auberton-Herve, the chairman and chief executive of Soitec, which bought Concentrix in December, said concentrated PV was likely to be the cheapest way to produce solar power in the future in high-irradiation areas.

"We are there to prove our solar solutions are best suited to South Africa’s (renewable energy) targets," said Auberton-Herve. "South Africa is the perfect location for our technology."

Concentrix estimates that its proposed 50MW plant, for which it is now seeking environmental authorisation, will create between 200 and 400 jobs in technical maintenance, cleaning and security.

Lerchenmuller said the group would consider local production, depending on the size of the domestic solar market.

Although no investment decision had yet been taken, the Western Cape was a probable choice for a production facility as it was near the group’s proposed solar projects.

"We believe that South Africa is a sustainable and long-term market, and that’s why we decided to invest here," Lerchenmuller said. "We came to South Africa to be here long term, to create value for the country and to create jobs."