Saudi Arabian Solar Chosen by South Africa

South Africa 50MW ACWA CSP

A Saudi solar project with gigantic storage could deliver solar at night in South Africa.

Saudi Arabia might not spring to mind as a nation creating the top CSP companies globally, but South Africa just selected as a “preferred bidder” to develop solar, a consortium led by the Kingdom’s own power and water group ACWA Power International.

South Africa’s new renewable energy policy is one of the most professionally discriminating in the world, according to SolarReserve SVP Tom Georgis. The nation’s first request for bids to meet its new renewable target was limited to just the top global solar PV and CSP companies able to muster the technical and financial resources to meet the contracts professionally.

This avoids the site “squatting” that wasted resources in California, where fly by night developers bought or rented key tracts of land with solar potential in the southwestern desert, despite having no possible way to produce energy – yet each proposal still had to get fully vetted to determine that anyway.

First solar project for ACWA.

While the Saudi firm has 12 GW of traditional power generation capacity in the MENA region, and it plans to ramp up its total capacity to 30 GW by the end of 2014, this would be its first solar project, but the consortium it leads includes Spain’s CSP giant Acciona, as well as Sener which partnered with Masdar on the first 24-hour solar CSP project globally.

The ACWA-led group’s bid for the 160 MW CSP project in Morocco, Ouarzzate, like the proposal for South Africa, builds on the company’s experience with thermal energy production, because CSP also uses steam-driven turbines in the plant to deliver power, only the heat source is different: the sun.

Huge potential for solar.

With plans for solar to make up 5 percent of its portfolio, ACWA plans to develop 1.5 GW of solar within two years, mostly in CSP projects. It certainly will have no shortage of opportunity to do so.

Saudi Arabia’s complete turnaround on renewable energy; which calls for spending $109 billion on new renewable energy to solar-power a third of the Kingdom, is designed to favor local production.

(Related: Saudis to Make Desert Sands into Solar Polysilicon)

The consortium’s bid was one of 19 preferred bids during the second-window evaluation under the South African government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP), which opened March 5 and closed May 21, according to Engineering News.

If accepted, their group’s bid for the 50 MW Bokpoort CSP project in the Northern Cape would be ACWA’s first South African project and begin operation in 2015.

To meet the first target set by the nation’s new policy requiring 15 percent renewable energy by 2020, 1 GW of solar projects is being put out to bid this year. The renewable energy target is for a total of 10,000 GWh annually by 2013, to come from all renewables combined.

Largest ever energy storage capacity:

ACWA expects to be able to deliver power at 2.51 South African Rands per kilowatt hour. In U.S. dollars, that’s 30 cents a kilowatt hour. While this is expensive, the project will include the largest thermal storage capacity ever for a CSP plant of its size, enabling it to produce 200 GWh annually.

Energy storage is the trump card that CSP offers, supplying a twofer, not merely electricity, but also the energy storage that will become more essential to even out the grid as more renewable energy is added. While solar PV can power days, only CSP can store energy to power evenings, since the back end is a thermal power plant run off steam-powered turbines, and heat can be stored in molten salts for use later.

Image Night view of Cape Town, from Shutterstock

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