SA's solar future

Sep 15 2013 14:11
*Alan Brent

Construction of the 20 MW Herbert PV power plant near Douglas in the Northern Cape Province. (Supplied)

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THE projects for the first two rounds of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) have reached financial closure and construction has commenced on all of the twenty-seven PV sites.

The question now is: What can be expected from these PV facilities – in 2015 – should all of them be fully operational by the end of 2014?

This is important for the grid planners and managers in terms of stabilising the grid, for policy-makers that need to consider an extension of the renewables programme, and, importantly, for decision-makers pertaining to the investment attractiveness of utility-scale PV projects.

Stellenbosch University has analysed the power and energy supply outlook for these PV projects with a quasistatic model using basic physical correlations, and external time series simulated data records, for the specific twenty-seven project sites.

Specifically, the records of an established solar resource database were averaged to hourly-based values that represent the annual period from January 1 to December 31 2010.

The PV plant simulation models – for different technologies – were verified with the System Advisor Model of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The analysis shows that the total, annual delivered energy, if the solar resource profile in 2015 will be similar to that of 2010, will be just under 2 000 GWh; or 1 906 GWh.

This amounts to just below 1% of the total (net) electricity generated by Eskom in 2012.

The cumulative maximum power will almost reach 900MW on some days, which is 14.2% less than the REIPPPP registered capacity of 1 049 MWp (megawatt peak).

The gap of 149MW is due to the fact that the peak power (MWp) corresponds to the standard test conditions, which does not represent an appropriate irradiance and cell temperature over the course of a day.

Thus, all of the PV projects will represent up to 2% of the net maximum capacity of all of Eskom’s power stations – reported in 2012.

These figure provide some insight as to what the solar PV sector will realistically contribute to the national electricity grid, based on utility-scale facilities.

Of importance to policy- and decision-makers,is that the supplied power and energy performances from the first twenty-seven projects are well within the recommended reserve margin of the national grid - between 10 and 15 %.

Thus the intermittencies of these facilities are of lesser importance, especially with improved solar resource prediction accuracies, now more than 24 hours in advance, thereby providing the grid operators with ample time to respond.

Indeed, indications are that the grid could accommodate at least double this amount of PV power generation, depending on the other renewable energy technologies that are deployed.
Greater accuracies of plant performance predictions also mean less risk to investors.

How well the utility-scale facilities perform will only be known after a year of operations, but the growth in this market, globally, already shows a high investor confidence.

South Africa is then in an excellent position to capitalise on further investment interests in this sector.

* Alan Brent is associate director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) at Stellenbosch University.

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