Sishen connects to the grid making it Africa's highest producing solar plant


Spanish company ACCIONA Energía and Aveng have put the Sishen solar photovoltaic plant into service. With its 216 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity generated per year, it will have the highest level of electricity output of all the currently operational PV plants in Africa.

The plant, with a peak capacity of 94.3 megawatts (MWp) - 74 nominal MW - is located in the municipality of Dibeng in Northern Cape. It will produce electricity equivalent to the consumption of around 100,000 South African households a year, avoiding the emission of 208,000 metric tons of C02 which is emitted by conventional coal-fired power stations into the atmosphere.

Covering approximately 250 hectares, the facility consists of 470 solar trackers that support 319,600 photovoltaic modules. If they were lined up straight, the rows of panels in each structure - seventeen 41-meter-long beams - would cover 327 kilometers, which is the distance between Cape Town and Mossel Bay.

The output from the plant will be sent to the South African state owned power utility Eskom via the power grid, under a long-term energy purchase and sale (PPA) contract.
A major milestone

"The start-up of Sishen is a major milestone for us, as it is the biggest photovoltaic plant built by our company in the world and our first renewable facility in South Africa, a country in which we expect to increase our presence considerably", says ACCIONA Energía CEO Rafael Mateo. "We are pleased to be contributing to compliance with South Africa's objectives in achieving a more sustainable energy system, creating jobs and added value in the country in the process", he adds.

The Sishen project was approved by the Department of Energy in round two of South Africa's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). This programme which has been hailed as one of the most successful public-private partnerships in renewable energy was launched with the aim to increase the share of renewable energy technologies in South Africa's energy mix, which is currently dominated by coal.

The objective of REIPPPP is to award power purchase agreements to renewable energy projects for an overall capacity of 3 725 MW to be installed by the end of 2016 over five rounds of bidding; bid round five is expected to be announced in 2015.

The lead consortium partners who own the Sishen plant are ACCIONA Energía (51% of the capital) and the South African infrastructures company Aveng (29%). The empowerment partners in the consortium that owns the Sishen plant are Soul City Broad-Based Empowerment Company (SCBBEC), a subsidiary of the Soul City Institute, an organisation dedicated to promoting health and social change - and a Local Community Trust. Both hold a 10% stake in the plant.

Approximately 1,000 jobs were created during the construction phase
The construction of the Sishen plant created an overall average of 500 jobs, and at its peak, approximately 1000 jobs were created. More than 90% of those employed were South African, of which 60% were from the local community.

The construction work was carried out under an EPC contract as a joint venture between ACCIONA Energía and Aveng. Construction started in June 2013 and finished in late November 2014.

ACCIONA Energía is currently completing the construction of a 138 MW wind farm in Western Cape, also awarded under round two of the REIPPPP. Additionally it is working on a number of wind and photovoltaic projects while intensifying its activity in the marketing of wind turbines.

A Group Division -ACCIONA Infrastructure- is participating in the construction of the Bokpoort CSP plant in South Africa. This 50 MW project in Northern Cape is headed by the Saudi group ACWA Power.

With the completion of the Sishen plant, the company now owns and operates power generation plants in 15 countries totaling almost 8,500 MW.


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