Solar Energy Research Boosted

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South Africa’s renewable energy research capacity has been bolstered through establishment of the Scatec Solar Chair in Photovoltaic (PV) Systems at Stellenbosch University (SU).

The Chair is supported by Norwegian global solar energy provider Scatec Solar, which is the first company to supply electricity to South Africa’s national grid under the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPPP).

Scatec Solar recently signed a contract with SU to establish the new Chair, which will enable the university to expand its leading role in renewable energy research in South Africa. SU’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies and a number of departments work together in such fields as solar thermal energy, bio-fuels, wind turbine technology and ocean energy.

According to Professor Wikus van Niekerk, Director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies: “The support from Scatec Solar will be used to appoint a leading academic as a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering with the task to coordinate and expand existing PV research.”  The department’s current focus on grid integration of small-scale rooftop PV systems will be expanded to incorporate utility scale PV power plants.

“Research will focus on optimising electricity generation from PV plants and will cover photovoltaic modules, inverters, support structures, system performance and the effects of soiling, grid integration and stability, and other technical issues,” explains Scatec Solar CEO Raymond Carlsen.  “The Chair will form partnerships with other research institutions in the general field of PV systems, including the development of collaborative projects, specialised consulting services for industry, and establishing additional funding streams for PV research at SU.”

The Chair will provide support for a PV industry, which is set to show phenomenal growth in South Africa, from a mere 30 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity in 2012 to between 12 000MW and 20 000MW by 2035, according to a study commissioned by the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association, the Department of Trade and Industry and the World Wildlife Fund. PV market growth will be driven not only by utility-scale projects under the REIPPPP, says the study, but even more so by companies that install the technology to reduce their exposure to rising electricity tariffs and carbon taxes, and to some extent by homeowners.

Government has already contracted 1 484MW of PV capacity from independent producers under the REIPPPP. Scatec Solar is developing three PV plants with combined installed capacity of 190MW. Its first project, the 75MW Kalkbult park in the Northern Cape, was completed three months ahead of schedule late last year and became the first utility-scale renewable energy plant to supply electricity to South Africa’s national grid. Scatec Solar and partners are also developing East Africa’s first utility-scale PV plant in Rwanda.


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