South Africa’s First Utility-Scale Solar Project Celebrates 10 Years of Electricity Production – CleanTechnica

South Africa's First Utility-Scale Solar Project Celebrates 10 Years of Electricity Production - CleanTechnica

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The RustMo1 Solar Project, the first renewable energy project developed under South Africa’s large renewables tender program — the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REI4P) — is celebrating 10 years of clean energy production.

The 7 megawatt (MW) project has been generating around 12.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, which is enough to power several thousand low-income homes. The project has provided a formative precedent for powering South Africa’s just energy transition and addressing the energy crisis. With the Development Bank of South Africa presently reviewing tenders to replace the REI4P, RustMo1 as the very first REI4P project also serves as a successful clean energy private-public partnership model for Africa.

The project was developed by Momentous Energy and is now owned together with Reatile Renewables. Built on a 19 hectare project site, located 22 kilometers outside of Rustenburg, it was constructed by JUWI Renewable Energies South Africa. JUWI Renewable Energies South Africa is also the operator of the plant. JUWI adds that in close collaboration with national utility, Eskom, and the IPP Office, project debt was provided by The Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) and financial services group, Nedbank.

“The RustMo1 Solar Project exemplifies the profound importance and power of private-public partnerships in steering the world toward clean energy, with us pioneering on financial close, project agreements, and so on, that still remain in use across the independent power producers (IPP) industry today,” said Dr Pravin Semnarayan, CEO, Momentous Energy. “It has truly been a joint effort, requiring deep commitment and collaboration from various institutions dedicated to advancing our country’s energy transition over the past decade.”

“As the first REI4P project, RustMo1 demanded constant innovation and creative problem-solving from the JUWI and Momentous Energy teams and partners, navigating uncharted waters,” said Richard Doyle, Managing Director, JUWI Renewable Energies. “With no national grid rules in place during the project’s commissioning, the partners worked closely with the Renewable Energy Technical Evaluation Committee (RETEC) to create the grid code, now guiding all solar plants connecting to the grid.”

According to Ramona Mohanlall, COO of RustMo1, one of the most inspirational and fulfilling outcomes of the project has been its contribution to community and skills development, and to women’s empowerment.

“With 17% of dividends from the project funding a community trust (instead of the usual 2.5% required by the REI4P), profits have supported early childhood development education for 250 young children, provided meals for 700 children during the COVID pandemic, and financed safe, flushing toilets to replace dangerous pit latrines,” said Mohanlall. “Our community-focused initiatives have yielded remarkable results, from supporting Retief Primary School, to producing the top matriculant student in the Northwest Province in 2022.”

The project’s skills development and women’s empowerment initiatives have paid off too, according to Dimakatso Chunda, Security Supervisor at RustMo1. “I started as a junior security guard on the project, and now, with Grade A security clearance and pursuing a General Management qualification, I’ve built a family home. As a woman, RustMo changed my life and provided me with opportunities for professional development that I never had before.”

“Reatile Renewables is proud to contribute to RustMo1’s legacy. This project and the team have set a high benchmark for other IPP projects in the REI4P,” said Sunette Smith, Portfolio Executive at Reatile Group.

JUWI has been operating the plant for the past ten years and the company just signed a new agreement to continue this work. The next decade will see the project generating a further 110 million kWh of clean energy amidst the energy crisis, reducing carbon by around 66,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent emissions of around 24 million liters of diesel consumed.

According to Doyle, “This project is one of deep foundational influence for both our team and South Africa, and the first of many we’ve developed, constructed, or operated for the South African grid. We’re honoured to contribute to the next phase of RustMo’s journey, and to witness how this model will inspire the next iteration of the national renewables procurement programme.”

It is great to see one of South Africa’s pioneering utility scale projects reaching this milestone. South Africa’s solar sector has grown significantly since then despite some delays for some of the bidding rounds for the utility scale solar tender. Overall, including the C&I solar sector, there is now well over 10 GW of solar and wind capacity installed in South Africa.

Image courtesy of JUWI Renewable Energies

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