SunPower breaks ground on 86 MW solar plant in South Africa


SunPower has begun construction on the 86 MW Prieska solar power plant in South Africa's Northern Cape province.

Expected to be fully operational in 2016, the project is the third solar power plant constructed by SunPower under the South Africa government's renewable energy program (REIPPP). In 2014, SunPower completed two projects totaling 33 MW, located near Douglas in the Northern Cape.

SunPower designed and is constructing the Prieska project and will provide operations and maintenance services once it is operational. The project will sell the electricity it produces to regional public utility ESKOM under a power purchase agreement.

The U.S. solar developer is installing its SunPower Oasis Power Plant technology at the Prieska site. The technology uses single-axis trackers to position the SunPower panels to face the sun throughout the day, increasing energy capture by up to 25% over fixed-tilt solar technology, according to the company.

SunPower secured the project under a project development agreement with South African Mulilo Solar Enterprises and Total, SunPower's majority shareholder. The project company in charge of implementing the project is owned by affiliated companies, including Total with a 27% share and Mulilo Solar Enterprises (18%), along with four other partners including a local community trust.

"With an abundance of reliable, cost-effective solar resources, South Africa is one of the fastest growing solar markets in the world today," noted SunPower President and CEO Tom Werner, adding that the company would continue to serve the region with the opening of its new solar panel manufacturing plant this year.

SunPower expects to produce up to 160 MW of solar panels a year at its new manufacturing plant in Cape Town, which is set to create some 150 new jobs.

SunPower's current global projects include recently announced plans with Apple to build two solar plants in China's Sichuan province totaling 40 MW.

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