Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea

Journalist


Lesufi’s 800MW solar farm dream full of potential pitfalls

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi is in Finland this week looking at solar technologies.


As the countdown to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi’s 800MW solar farm starts, experts say although the decision to increase electricity capacity in Gauteng is “admirable”, technical and environmental concerns are mounting and may delay implementation. Panyaza Lesufi’s 800MW solar farm plan With the environmental impact assessment (EIA) only set to begin in the next six months and construction estimated in around three to six months, according to Lesufi’s spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga, energy experts argue that without proper plans, the plant might just be a “commendable dream” at risk of being a failed investment. ALSO READ: Gauteng’s plan to construct solar…

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As the countdown to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi’s 800MW solar farm starts, experts say although the decision to increase electricity capacity in Gauteng is “admirable”, technical and environmental concerns are mounting and may delay implementation.

Panyaza Lesufi’s 800MW solar farm plan

With the environmental impact assessment (EIA) only set to begin in the next six months and construction estimated in around three to six months, according to Lesufi’s spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga, energy experts argue that without proper plans, the plant might just be a “commendable dream” at risk of being a failed investment.

ALSO READ: Gauteng’s plan to construct solar farm ‘will bolster investor confidence’

Mhaga said six developers had been appointed to run the project. He also said the “sites are spread around the Merafong area, tracts of land from near the Sibanye-Stillwater mines towards Carletonville”.

Al Kharsaah solar power project

The Al-Kharsaah solar photovoltaic power plant in Qatar, Doha, completed in 2022, is an example of what it took to build an 800MW plant.

The plant took nearly three years to build and covers 10 square kilometres, with more than 1.8 million solar panels utilising tracking technology, robotic arms and treated water to clean the solar panels, reported Energy-utilities.com.

There is also a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) between the owners of the plant and the power grid operator.

Concerns over land size, dust suppression

Energy analyst Lungile Mashele said one of the concerns was land size for an 800MW facility, coupled with dust suppression in an area that will require more water.

RELATED: National Treasury clarifies solar panel tax incentives

“Energy yield will also be challenging because this area does not enjoy high solar irradiation like in the Northern Cape or the Free State. This will impact on cash flows.

“The proposed area is a former mining town and synonymous with sinkholes, therefore the EIA may take longer and be more detailed. A major civils risk is the shifting of foundation blocks for the photovoltaic structure which will lead to panel tilt.

“Inadequate drainage is another risk when it comes to speeding up EIAs because ideally you want to carry out the studies over two seasons [dry and wet]. With six developers, a major issue becomes interface risk. Will
they all be doing the same thing? Who is the project manager? Will they all be procuring the same technology?” Mashele asked.

Regulatory approvals

Energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard said: “It can take a year or more to get all the regulatory approvals. Then another six to 12 months to reach financial close and then another 12 to 18 months for construction.”

Eberhard said they would then “need a long-term power purchase agreement with the city with predictable revenues to pay for that investment”.

‘Price is very high for a very long time’

Wits Business School professor Rod Crompton said the province was entering into a kind of take-or-pay agreement with the project investors and the PPA would specify the price of the electricity and the number of years for which the province will take or pay for the electricity.

“The risk is the price is very high for a very long time. Will the profit for the investors be excessive? Will their costs be excessive? Also, will the PPA commit the investor to a date by which the project must begin supplying?

READ: Reality check ‘essential’ on some of Gauteng government’s ideas

Such agreements have carrots and sticks which could end up being good or bad for electricity customers.”

Mashele also sounded a warning. “With dwindling municipal balance sheets, who is willing to take a 20-year view on municipal offtake or is the plan to pay off the investment in a much shorter time frame?” she asked

Lesufi was in Finland this week looking at solar technologies.

“A 5G new street light pole with high-tech CCTVs, drone decking station, air quality control, loudspeakers for emergency evacuation, e-panic button and electric car charging station,” he posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

“The future is here!”

– reitumetsem@citizen.co.za

NOW READ: Energy experts say citizens should be able to ditch Eskom and produce own electricity

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