DURBAN hopes to start building its first sun power farm in cane fields near La Mercy within weeks. The solar power farm is expected to cost about R50 million and provide about a megawatt of electricity for the city’s power grid.
Although this is less than 1 percent of Durban’s peak power demand, it is nevertheless the biggest solar project so far in South Africa.
Sun power projects of around 100MW are in the pipeline elsewhere in the country after the Energy Department called for expressions of interest last month for renewable energy projects.
Mark Gordon, special adviser on climate change in the national Environment Affairs Department, said yesterday that construction on the Durban project could start next month, subject to approval by the national electricity regulator, licensing and an environmental impact assessment.
“We hope it will be operational before the start of the international climate change conference in Durban at the end of November so we can showcase this project to the delegates and also demonstrate the potential of renewable energy.”
It is understood that the plant would be built on a 4ha site owned by Tongaat-Hulett.
The technology would probably be supplied by the French Soitec group, which produces concentrator solar photovoltaic panels.
Concentrator technology magnifies the sun’s rays on to conventional photovoltaic cells to create electricity.
Sources close to the project did not believe the project would create a glare problem for aircraft at King Shaka International Airport because they were designed to absorb rather than to reflect sunlight.
Last month, the Energy Department said it had set an initial target of producing at least 3 750MW of renewable energy, including about 1 450MW of solar photovoltaic energy.
Studies by the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town suggest there are no technical reasons why South Africa could not meet at least 55 percent of its electricity needs with solar power by 2050.
However, researchers Max Edkins, Harald Winkler and Andrew Marquard acknowledged that moving from coal to sun power would come with a hefty price tag until solar technologies were refined and commercialised.
Edkins said the greatest barrier to a large-scale rollout of solar power was Eskom’s preference for fossil fuels.
Professor Dieter Holm, of the Southern African chapter of the International Solar Energy Society, agreed, saying: “The most important constraint is not money, men, machines, materials or management, but motivation, or inspired political will.”