Namibia to get 500 MW photovoltaic plant

Namibia to get 500 MW photovoltaic plantUsually when the world’s new crop of giant photovoltaic farms are announced, they’re in places like the U.S. southwest, but increasingly other countries are lining up truly utility-scale solar projects, like some that have been named in China and now, and perhaps increasingly in the future, Africa.

South Africa is still reviewing some 300 proposals for a 300-megawatt photovoltaic farm, but Namibia is already forging ahead with a larger plant, a 500-megawatt solar installation. Details are still being worked out and an official announcement of the project is planned for later this month, said a source close to the project who asked not to be named.

Namibia is actually pursuing such a project to make up for electricity it had been buying from South Africa.

“They’ve been importing [electricity] for a number of years. But due to South Africa’s own power needs they need to develop their own power,” he said.

The country’s total grid capacity is approximately 8 gigawatts, and it was considering multiple approaches, including using fossil fuel plants to make up for the power it can no longer get from South Africa. However, the country ultimately chose to go solar—and at a significant cost-savings too.

“It’s going to cut their electricity bill in half. They were paying almost 40 cents per kilowatt hour,” he said.

The country signed a 25-year power-purchase agreement for the power. The company behind the project is now looking to find an engineering, procurement and construction contractor (EPC) to develop the project.

The EPC also will have to develop some transmission lines, according to the source.

“Primarily a distribution line from the various sites, 500 MWs takes up a lot of land. They’ve committed thousands of acres. We’re working on convincing them to do more distributed sites,” he said.

By using more distributed sites it will help ensure that cloud cover over one part of the installation won’t impact the entire project at the same time.

The African market for solar is heating up.

“There’s a huge demand. We’re not looking at every country in Africa, but [are looking at] the countries that have the right factors that make this type of project make sense,” he said. “Namibia itself has some of the best irradiance in the world.”

It’s also a stable country with a good credit rating, which makes it ideal for such a project. The company also is scoping out countries in and around Namibia.

“It’s a good market; you just have to be able to weigh the risks,” the source said.

Stability is a big factor.

“It’s tough to go into a place like Rwanda,” he said. But investors are interested in financing solar projects in other African countries.

Image courtesy of NREL.