The Kathu Solar Park in the Northern Cape, was inaugurated last week. High profile attendees witnessed the power of South Africa’s largest concentrated solar power greenfield project in operation. In attendance, was Northern Cape Premier, Sylvia Lucas, as well as representatives from the Department of Energy and French and Spanish Ambassadors to South Africa, HChristophe Farnaud and Carlos Fernández-Arias, respectively, indicating the importance of renewable energy projects in supporting the struggling South African base load.  

South Africas largest Concentrated Solar IPP project

Kathu Solar Park is a Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Independent Power Producer project and was built in less than three years. Cutting-edge energy generation and storage technology is pumping 100 MW into the national grid and providing 179 000 households in the Northern Cape with constant power.

Isabelle Kocher, CEO of global energy company ENGIE, the lead developer and major shareholder in Kathu Solar Park, says the company is pleased to contribute a sustainable source of clean energy to the grid, in good time. 

“As this was ENGIE’s first CSP project that required very complex implementation, we are delighted that we are now able to start to demonstrate the application of concentrated solar power to mitigate intermittence issues of wind and photovoltaic and to continue to prove the benefits of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Plan to South Africa’s grid. The KSP project clearly demonstrates the Group’s ambition to lead the way in the competitive energy transition,” says Kocher. 

The solar park was awarded under Round 3.5 of South Africa’s REIPPP on 15 December 2014 and comprises a mix of stakeholders aimed at meeting stringent commercial and social objectives. The multinational group includes South African investors SIOC Community Development Trust, Investec Bank, Lereko Metier Sustainable Capital Fund, and its co-investors FMO, the Dutch development bank and DEG, the German investment and development company, and the Public Investment Corporation. The main contractor (EPC) was a special purpose vehicle comprising engineering and technology group SENER, ACCIONA and the Kelebogile Trust.

Kathu Concentrated Solar Project CEO, Cedric Faye: “From the outset we wanted to make a lasting social-economic impact in the area. Not only are we now providing a sizeable contribution to the local power supply, I am proud to say that in addition to the 1,700 jobs that were created during construction, of which 42% of the workforce was hired from the local community, the project achieved a 45% local content acquisition mark. This represents a considerable skills transfer to the area.”  

Financing of the project

Investec’s Andre Wepener views Kathu CSP’s investment model as innovative and one that is replicable throughout Sub Saharan Africa. Wepener explains, “It is always our intention to be involved from the early stages to the end of a project financing cycle. We have seen the benefits of employing this approach with Kathu CSP, where Investec were co-developers, had representation on the board and are still shareholders. This is in addition to being a senior debt provider to the project.” 

Cutting edge technology

The main focus has been to ensure that Kathu Solar Park, through the EPC consortium SENER and ACCIONA, were able to make a positive and enduring difference through innovation and technology, with high efficiency and performance to deliver energy to the South African grid particularly during the evening peak.

To achieve this, Kathu Solar Park uses parabolic trough technology equipped with a molten salt storage system that allows for 4.5 hours of thermal energy storage to provide reliable electricity in the absence of solar radiation.

The parabolic trough technology is a patented optimised collector technology by engineering and engineering group, SENER. The SENERtrough®-2 collectors are designed to optimise the power storage capacity and keep costs to a minimum. The technique involves using 384,000 large mirrors at Kathu Solar Park to reflect sunlight and collect solar heat to generate electricity. SENER’s innovative design ensures that the aperture of each parabolic trough reduces the cost by 30%. 

Social upliftment

Project stakeholders have also invested significantly in social initiatives which have borne fruit over the past three years in the communities surrounding Kathu.

The initiatives are an important aspect of the Kathu Solar Park, and include:

  • A total of 25 social management measures were carried out, supporting more than 16 957 beneficiaries. All of the social initiatives were channeled through an independent organisation, the Kelebogile Trust, established and fully funded by the EPC consortium SENER and ACCIONA in 2016. To date, the Kelebogile Trust has founded projects worth R20m in the John Taolo Gaetsewe municipality.

  • Some 75% of the budget available for these activities was used to improve education levels in the community, while the remaining 25% was allocated to boost small and medium-sized businesses in the region, and to improve training for their employees to create new business opportunities and encourage local hiring. 

  • The results of these initiatives include the creation of more than 5,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs during the construction phase of Kathu. Specialist training was also given to local personnel to operate the plant to ensure the transfer of knowledge and training for new professional profiles.  

  • In addition to this, Kathu Solar Park has set up a Social Economic Development (SED) programme, investing R8 500 000 on 27 initiatives during the construction phase; and will allocate 1% of the revenue during the operation phase for education, health care, social welfare projects in the John Taolo Gaetsewe district with the aim to further foster more local and rural progress.

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