A Massive 100-MW Solar CSP Plant Comes to Life in South African Desert

Kathu is a 100 MW thermo-solar plant which is spread in 800 Hectares and will start its commercial operations in 2019.

In the heart of the Kalahari desert, Kathu Solar Park CSP Plant of 100 MW capacity has come up. Earlier this week, the engineering and technology group SENER and ACCIONA Industrial reached a critical milestone in the construction project of Kathu Solar Park after accomplishing the first synchronization with the National grid.

“With the successful first synchronization at Kathu Solar Park we are heading into the final stages of the construction and commissioning phase of the project that will ultimately reach the commercial operation date for the plant in the next couple of months,” said Siyabonga Mbanjwa, SENER Southern Africa Regional MD.

The massive park is situated outside the Northern Cape Town of South Africa. As we have reported earlier, South Africa is one of the upcoming markets of Energy storage in Africa, according to WoodMac report, and Kathu which is a massive 4.5km2 concentrated solar power plant will have the ability to pump electricity into the national grid even when the sun isn’t out.

The plant uses parabolic trough technology with giant curved mirrors to track the sun and focus its rays into a pipe. The pipe contains a heat absorbent medium that carries the energy to water in a boiler. The steam then drives a turbine to generate electricity.

Key highlights:

  • The Kalahari Desert’s Kathu Solar Park will start commercial operation next year.
  • This concentrated solar power plant is due to pump 100MW into South Africa’s electricity grid. 
  • It can keep up its contribution at night and when the sun isn’t out, thanks to 4.5 hours of thermal storage in molten salt.

Thanks to a molten-salt storage system, Kathu can store 4.5 hours of thermal energy, which helps reduce the effects of irregular sunlight and allows the opportunity to produce electricity even after the sun goes down.

The park is expected to operate for 30 years, with a 100MW capacity delivering a projected 390GWh per year – enough to run almost 180,000 households.

The Kathu project secured R12 billion (approx $876 Million) in financing when construction began in May 2016 and was expected to finish construction in the early months of 2019. During the developmental phase, around 1,200 jobs were created. Kathu is expected to reduce carbon dioxide output by six million tons over a 20-year period after it goes into full commercial operation in 2019.

CSP projects, for long the ignored part of the solar power market thanks to their higher costs, have lately come into their own again. Driven by a fall in prices as well as their inherent ability to ‘store’power for use on demand, quite a few projects are expected to go online in the coming year in the Middle East and Africa. So even though they remain a more ‘expensive’ option to PV modules, they are clearly finding a second wind for growth.

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