Positive feedback for grid connection of 86 MW PV plant in South Africa

All too often regions of the world with high irradiation levels can also be hampered with difficult conditions for grid connection, whether it be difficult terrain, or unsuitable grids for PV deployment. The Northern Cape of South Africa is one such area where power companies have been navigating the challenges of grid connection, but a recent utility-scale PV project has navigated such issues, and has received praise for its smooth connection to the South African grid.

The 86 MW Mulilo-Sonnedix-Prieska solar PV plant was successfully connected to the grid last month, and EPC on the project juwi Renewable Energies was proud to proclaim that it was completed on schedule, on budget, and was connected in good time for commercial operation. It is even believed that the plant is the first solar project under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Program (REIPP) to gain grid code compliance prior to reaching commercial operation.

“This is the biggest solar PV EPC project we have ever delivered in such a remote location,” commented Managing Director of juwi Renewable Energies Greg Austin. “We have received excellent feedback from Eskom’s Grid Access Unit and NERSA’s RETEC regarding our grid code compliance planning execution.”

The 86 MW plant, valued at SAR 1.4 billion (USD 96 million), is situated just outside of the city of Prieska, and is one of the largest PV plants in the country. juwi worked as the EPC on the Sonnedix project, which is owned by local company Mulilo, while a whole host other companies were involved, including BYD, ABB and PiA Solar. However, it was the grid connection that provided some of the greatest challenges.

“Although the Northern Cape is one of the best irradiation areas in the world and has enormous future energy generation potential, the grid connection here and elsewhere in the country is the issue that everyone’s grappling with,” continued Austin. “You can’t export power without a suitable grid, and hence the limitations of the grid is an inhibitor which the Department of Energy as well as all industry stake holders should be addressing more urgently.”

The REIPP has been acting as the vehicle for developing renewable energy across South Africa, and has targeted the development of an additional 5 GW of clean energy by 2019. So far, the program has attracted more than USD 14 billion in investment, of which 30% has been foreign direct investment, which is equivalent to 86% of the total foreign direct investment into South Africa since 2014.