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CityPress - - Business - YOLANDI GROE­NEWALD busi­ness@city­press.co.za

field of black, ser­ried rows of rec­tan­gles has arisen in the Kala­hari, about 10km north of the Sishen iron ore mine. In late Novem­ber last year, a con­sor­tium led by a unit of Spain’s re­new­able en­ergy gi­ant Acciona and lo­cal con­sor­tium Aveng plugged 74 megawatts of re­new­able elec­tric­ity ca­pac­ity into South Africa’s power grid.

And af­ter six months, the own­ers of the field of thin domino-like squares are smil­ing.

The Sishen so­lar plant is out­per­form­ing all of the Span­ish owner’s other plants, pump­ing its planned megawatts into the grid as ex­pected.

Although the so­lar plant’s out­put is 94MW, only 74MW is pumped into the grid af­ter the en­ergy is con­verted from di­rect cur­rent to al­ter­na­tive cur­rent, as re­quired by South Africa’s grid.

A net­work of red, sandy roads con­nects the pan­elled fields and sheep can of­ten be spot­ted graz­ing be­tween the rows.

“They are our fire con­trol,” said Acciona En­ergy SA Global CEO Rafael Este­ban.

The so­lar pan­els at the plant are sup­ported on 470 track­ers that are pro­grammed to au­to­mat­i­cally fol­low the sun across the sky from east to west ev­ery day to op­ti­mise the cap­ture of the sun’s rays.

The red dust, a fea­ture of that part of the Kala­hari, does not bother the so­lar pan­els at all.

“Sishen was a prime lo­ca­tion for us,” said Este­ban. “In re­new­ables, it is all about lo­ca­tion, and this is one of the best.”

The Sishen plant is Acciona’s largest pho­to­voltaic plant in the world. The Span­ish com­pany is now the big­gest in­de­pen­dent re­new­able en­ergy op­er­a­tor in the world.

It has more than 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the sec­tor and owns as­sets in five tech­nolo­gies world­wide: wind power (7 180MW in op­er­a­tion); hy­dro (888MW); con­cen­trated so­lar power (314MW); pho­to­voltaic so­lar (143MW at peak) and biomass (61MW). The com­pany pro­duces more than 21 ter­awatt-hours – equiv­a­lent to the con­sump­tion of more than 6 mil­lion house­holds.

The Sishen project was ap­proved by the depart­ment of en­ergy in the sec­ond round of its re­new­able en­ergy in­de­pen­dent power pro­ducer pro­cure­ment pro­gramme.

The pro­gramme has a tar­get of 3 725MW in re­new­able

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