SolarReserve wins largest PV contracts in South Africa

SolarReserve wins largest PV contracts in South AfricaLast week, South Africa announced 1,400 megawatts of new renewable energy generating capacity awards.

Of those 632 megawatts will be solar projects, and the largest winner among those projects was U.S.-based SolarReserve working with the Kensani Group and Intikon Energy. Through the partnership, the companies will install, own and operate two separate 75-megawatt photovoltaic plants in South Africa.

SolarReserve develops both concentrating solar power (CSP) projects with molten salt thermal energy storage and photovoltaic projects. It broke ground on its first tower project earlier this year in Nevada, and now it’s going international.

“This would be our first project in Africa,” said SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith. “And actually our first international project. We have a molten salt tower project expected to break ground in Spain in June [2012] as well.”

Construction on the two South African projects, the Letsatsi and Lesedi projects in the provinces of Free State and Northern Cape, is expected to start by June 2012. Both 75-megawatt plants were granted preferred status from the South African Department of Energy, which allows them to pursue 20-year power-purchase agreements with South African power Utility Eksom, Smith said.

The new solar projects will be more generation capacity for South Africa.

“They have a pretty big demand requirement,” Smith said. “They do suffer from brownouts. They’re trying to meet some of that through renewable energy.”

However, the country also is looking to conventional generation sources like coal fired power and is considering nuclear.

The 150 megawatts of solar power will produce enough energy to power roughly 50,000 homes in South Africa. The projects will cost roughly U.S. $600 million to complete over the next two years.

“The main debt provider will be Rand Merchant Bank,” Smith said. During construction the two projects will create roughly 600 jobs. and post-construction, 100 permanent jobs, according to a press release.

The company is developing photovoltaic projects like these in South Africa and throughout the world. But its core competency is in CSP, according to Smith.

In fact it’s working on plans to introduce its Solar Power Towers in the country in 2012.

“It’s a great market for our CSP with molten-salt storage,” he said.

That’s partly because energy demand in South Africa stretches into the evening, when PV can’t generate power, but thermal energy can.

SolarReserve likely won’t announce those projects until summer or fall of 2012, according to Smith.

Image courtesy of NREL.