South African solar plant that rocks until dawn

20 June 2016

A South African solar power plant has effectively eliminated the minor disadvantage caused by the sun’s disappearance at sunset by setting a record for continuous, round the clock electricity supply. Within the first month of commercial operation, the newly inaugurated 50 MW Bokpoort concentrated solar power (CSP) plant built and operated by ACWA Power has produced electricity for a continuous period of 161 hours – almost seven days.

Located in Groblershoop, within the Kheis Municipality in the Northern Cape Province, the project's performance was boosted by its 1300 MWh molten salt energy storage facility which provides 9.3 hours of thermal storage, the highest on the African continent. Chief executive officer Paddy Padmanathan commented: "Round the clock electricity supply from a solar power plant is not only a significant milestone for ACWA Power, but for South Africa and the renewables industry. Our goal is to provide power as safely, reliably and efficiently as possible at the lowest possible cost. By applying innovative technology ... [we have achieved] a breakthrough in the commercial, utility scale use of solar power." Nandu Bhula, CEO of Bokpoort CSP plant, added: "Globally the biggest challenge of CSP has been its ability to produce energy consistently long after sunset. The performance of this plant is a clear indication that CSP technology can be used as a base-load capacity option in the same way as conventional power plants."

In South Africa the country's daily evening peak demand is from 5pm to 9pm and the newly introduced CSP Peak tariff means that
developers are encouraged to install thermal storage capacity. Bokpoort CSP has shown that its 9.3 hours of thermal storage can easily be extended to allow 24/7 continuous operations.

ACWA Power's next project is the 100MW Redstone CSP plant, which is expected to begin construction sometime this year. According to Nandu Bhula this plant will offer 12 hours of storage capacity by applying the latest innovations in thermal storage technology. He commented: "The success of the Bokpoort operation and the application of new technology prove that commercial scale CSP plants with adequate storage are a valuable and efficient contributor to the future energy needs of South Africa under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme."

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