The SOLA Group, a leading entity in renewable energy solutions, has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative in South Africa by commencing the construction of a state-of-the-art 195 MW Solar Photovoltaic (PV) plant in the Free State. This significant stride marks a pivotal moment in the country’s energy landscape as it pioneers the sale of power to multiple buyers across the nation on adaptable terms, setting a new standard for energy accessibility and sustainability.
With a colossal capital investment of R2.8 billion, the project signifies a monumental leap toward renewable energy in South Africa. SOLA Group stands as the predominant equity shareholder, demonstrating its unwavering commitment to revolutionizing the energy sector. Additionally, three multinational energy users have enthusiastically joined as anchor buyers for the project, cementing their support for sustainable energy practices.
A noteworthy aspect of this groundbreaking initiative is the allocation of a substantial portion of the project’s capacity to flexible, short-term power purchase agreements. These agreements are designed to cater to a diverse spectrum of South African energy users, granting businesses access to reliable renewable energy without obligating them to enter long-term contracts.
Dom Wills, CEO of the SOLA Group, articulated, “Government initiatives aimed at unbundling Eskom and fostering competition among multiple electricity suppliers have propelled SOLA into pioneering the initial strides toward a more agile and efficient electricity system. Leveraging the existing Eskom wheeling framework, SOLA aims to introduce choice and flexibility to businesses across South Africa.”
The concept of “wheeling” underpins this transformative endeavor, facilitating the buying and selling of electricity among private entities utilizing the existing distribution infrastructure. SOLA intends to onboard interested buyers for uncontracted power from mid-2024, with the commencement of electricity delivery slated for mid-2025.
Katherine Persson, Head of SOLA Assets, emphasized, “This marks the fourth utility-scale renewable wheeling project that SOLA has initiated and commenced construction on within the past 15 months. These ventures firmly establish SOLA as South Africa’s foremost Independent Power Producer (IPP), engaged in supplying power to private buyers. The collective portfolio now stands at an impressive 581 megawatts of wheeling capacity currently under construction.”
Beyond its significant energy contributions, these four pioneering projects are forecasted to generate employment opportunities, creating an estimated 1,500 jobs within the surrounding areas. Furthermore, the SOLA Group’s fleet is projected to generate 1.34 terawatt-hours annually – a capacity adequate to power nearly 500,000 homes, underscoring its monumental impact on enhancing energy accessibility.
SOLA’s initiatives underscore South Africa’s resolute commitment to advancing electricity wheeling. Notably, in a groundbreaking move last August, Eskom and Vodacom South Africa inked a ‘first of its kind’ virtual wheeling agreement, propelling the telecom company toward renewable energy.
Sitho Mdlalose, CEO of Vodacom South Africa, commented, “Through co-developing the virtual wheeling solution with Eskom and finalizing our agreement, we anticipate shifting approximately 30% of Vodacom South Africa’s power demand to renewable sources. This marks a significant stride toward realizing our renewable energy aspirations.”
Furthermore, the City of Cape Town launched a wheeling pilot in September, aiming to integrate 1,000 MW of independent grid capacity over time, a strategic move aimed at mitigating load shedding.
The SOLA Group’s pioneering efforts in renewable energy and adaptive power distribution systems not only represent a milestone for the country’s energy landscape but also resonate as a beacon of hope for a sustainable future. As South Africa endeavors to diversify its energy sources and bolster accessibility, initiatives spearheaded by entities like SOLA are instrumental in driving positive change, fostering economic growth, and paving the way for a greener tomorrow.