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