Solar power in South Africa: A look at the country’s solar plants

Jack Unwin 3 June 2019 (Last Updated July 10th, 2020 11:49)

As it continues to ramp up its solar ambitions, we take a look at the solar power industry in South Africa and its leading solar plants.

Solar power in South Africa: A look at the country’s solar plants
South Africa will add an extra 5.7GW of solar power to its grid by 2030. Credit: Enel Spa.

South Africa once backed massive expansion in nuclear power as a way to meet its growing energy needs with clean power, with the technology forming the cornerstone of its 2010 integrated resource plan (IRP). But by 2018, the spiralling costs of nuclear power had led it to change in tack.

Its 2018 IRP called for 5.7GW of solar power to be added to the grid by 2030, on top of the nearly 1.5GW currently in use in the country. Much of South Africa’s solar industry is based in its Northern Cape region.

With this major expansion of solar power imminent, what are some of the leading solar power plants in South Africa?

Kathu Solar Park

Kathu is the largest solar park in South Africa with a capacity of 100MW. Construction commenced on the plant in May 2016 and it began commercial operation in January 2019, with an operational life of 30 years.

The park was estimated to cost $811m (ZAR12bn) and will save six million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years. It will produce enough energy to power 179,000 South African homes during peak demand periods.

It has furthered bolstered its environmental credentials by embarking on a project to protect endangered and sensitive plant species. As part of the scheme, some 3,345 plants were rescued and relocated to a safer area for growth.

Jasper Solar Power Project

Another solar farm in the Northern Cape region, the Jasper Solar Power Project is a 96MW plant formed of 325,000 solar panels that has been online since October 2014. The plant cost ZAR2.3bn to build and is owned by American company SolarReserve.

The plant produces 180GWh of electricity per year, enough to power 80,000 homes in South Africa, and will offset over 145,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. Like many of the other solar plants mentioned, Jasper has a 20 year power purchase agreement (PPA) in place with Eskom.

Solar Capital De Aar Project 1 and 2

The Solar Capital De Aar Project is based in the Northern Cape region. Project 1 was completed in August 2014 and has a capacity of just over 85MW, Project 2 was added in April 2016 with a capacity of 90MW, giving it a combined capacity of 175MW.

The entire facility covers 500 hectares and is formed of 700,000 solar panels. It is owned by Solar Capital, who invested $400m into the project to make it one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Solar Capital has entered into a 20 year PPA with South African state energy company Eskom to supply electricity at a fixed price.

Mulilo Sonnedix Prieska PV

Mulilo Prieska PV was completed in 2016 is yet another solar plant in the Northern Cape region, in the former zinc mining town of Copperton.

Spread over 125 hectares and formed of 275,000 solar panels connected by 990km of cable, the plant has a lifespan of 20 years and provides enough energy for 40,000 households. It is the joint project of solar multinational company Sonnedix and South African company Mulilo Renewable Energy.

Mulilo also has a similar sized project called Mulilo Prieska PV. With a capacity of 75MW, the solar farm was built in collaboration with companies such as Total and Sunpower, who provide engineering, procurement and construction.

Kalkbult solar power plant

The Kalkbult solar power plant is a 75MW plant in the Northern Cape region of South Africa. The plant took eight months to build from January to September 2013, and was completed three months ahead of schedule.

It is owned by Norwegian company Scatec Solar, who like Solar Capital has entered into a PPA with Eskom to supply electricity.

Formed of 312,504 solar modules spread over 112 hectares, the Kalkbult plant produces 150,000MWh of energy a year, enough energy to power 35,000 homes in South Africa.