South Africa is getting massive new hybrid solar plants

Norwegian renewable energy company Scatec says it is on track to add 150MW of contracted energy capacity to the national grid through its hybrid solar and battery plants in the Northern Cape.

The group plans to construct a million individual solar photovoltaic (PV) panels across a 1,100ha area for a capital expenditure of around $1 billion (R15.3 billion) – making it one of the most ambitious projects of its kind in the world, says Jan Fourie, general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Scatec.

Fourie said that the plants’ lithium-ion battery units allow for a previously unprecedented level of output control and ‘dispatchability’.

“Innovations in storage (battery) technology have allowed renewable energy plants to output completely stable, consistent, dispatchable power.

“The advent of these large-scale long-duration storage solutions, propelled by innovations in lithium-ion and other technologies, is finally dispelling the misconception that renewables’ output is intermittent, or that solar power is only available when the sun shines.”

These considerations are crucial as South Africa’s Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMIPPP) guidelines stipulate that the new energy must be available at total capacity from 05h30 to 21h00 every day, and dispatchable at the request of grid operators whenever a market demand may arise, he said.

Fourie explained that the hybrid solution allows Scatec to provide power day or night, when South Africa’s grid comes under strain and faces potential load shedding.

“PV capacity is over-installed, and the vast excess of energy produced during the sunlight hours is stored in the battery packs, and released as needed, especially during the mornings and evenings when demand peaks, and grid operators request power. The storage units also safeguard against prolonged periods of overcast weather and seasonal swings.”

Hybrid systems likely to overtake gas 

While LNG (liquefied natural gas) has been touted as a viable alternative energy solution for South Africa, Fourie cautions that renewables represent a far better strategy for an emerging economy like South Africa.

“The significant challenges globally around decarbonisation, affordability, and profitability suggest that the LNG industry may not enjoy popular backing from banks and investors for much longer,” he said.

“Though LNG is less carbon-intensive than coal, it is still a fossil fuel. Its usage has a detrimental impact on the environment, incurs a carbon tax, and is not consistent with our goals to expand renewables’ contribution to SA’s energy mix. A greener future using renewables is possible, and is, in the longer term, a better strategy.”

He added that renewable dispatchable power in South Africa is not a pipe-dream, but is instead a reality available right now.

“There are already many massive projects underway that promise to offset load shedding and bring South Africans clean power for the future. Dispatchable renewables are a risk-free win for government, and the key to future-proofing South Africa’s energy sector lies in harnessing the country’s abundant renewable resources,” he said.

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South Africa is getting massive new hybrid solar plants