World class technology for E260M Lavumisa solar plant

Mbabane – Eswatini Electricity Company invested E260 million on a well-equipped solar power plant at Lavumisa in the quest to combat the thorny issue of energy insufficiency in Eswatini.

The solar plant is built in a 35 hectares land at Qomintaba, an area situated at Lavumisa under Matsanjeni South Inkhundla and it was built using the profits of EEC as revealed by the company’s Managing Director Ernest Mkhonta.

Solar power is harnessed using Solar Photovoltaic (PV) technology that converts sunlight (Solar radiation) into electricity by using semiconductors.

When the sun hits the semiconductor within the PV cell, electrons are freed and bus bars collect the running electrons which results in electric current. When Solar panels are placed connected in a calculated manner in the sunlight, they start producing current and voltage in the form of direct current (DC).

The appliances and equipment run on Alternative Current (AC) so we need to connect to all Solar panels to an inverter which then converts DC into AC for home use. At the Lavumisa solar plant, there are 37 968 solar panels connected in a calculated manner in the sunlight and they convert 10 megawatts energy during the day. About 6 000 homesteads around Lavumisa benefit from the energy generated at the solar plant.

During a tour at the plant organised by EEC on Tuesday, journalists were educated on the functionality of the plant and how the solar panels extract the energy directly from the sun using the technology.

According to the Government’s parastatal, the plant is positioned to respond to Eswatini’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative that aims at increasing renewable energy generation in the national energy mix to 50 per cent by the year 2030. The project’s objective is to increase sovereignty security of supply to reduce reliance on electricity imports to meet the country’s energy needs.

EEC has committed E260 million to develop this landmark project, the first to be owned and operated by the company, and the first utility scale Solar PV Plant in the country. The project included a 22/66kV substation at Lavumisa, and a 66kV steel monopole transmission line from Lavumisa to the point of connection at Maloma Substation.

This project is part of the company’s strategy to increase internal generation mix, thus improving sustainability. The integration of this plant to the grid was done at Maloma Substation, thus it includes improvements of the configuration at Maloma Substation, which includes a busbar and the modification of the Sithobela line bay and the addition of the Lavumisa to Maloma line bay.

The plant was completed and commissioned in December, 2020 and thereafter underwent tests which included grid code compliance tests and performance tests. The solar PV plant complied to all contractual obligations at the issuing of COD.

The project was awarded after a competitive bidding process, which started with a request for qualifications stage where fourteen companies expressed interest. Three bidders submitted bids for the request for proposal stage of the bidding process and Consolidated Power Projects Energy Solutions was awarded the contract based on technical and financial evaluation that yielded the lowest tariff

“As per standard industry practice, a power plant is commissioned when it reaches performance criteria on completion of construction. There may, however, be aesthetic issues associated with the completion of the plant that need to be corrected, but would not prevent the safe operation of the plant and these items are referred to as the snag list. The Contractor is allowed to complete these during the defect notification period, which is also normal contractual condition. The EEC interests are protected by the contractor issuing The Performance Bond which remain valid for the Defect Notification Period.”

In accordance with its contractual obligations the Contractor is on standby to address any issues on the plant for a period of 24 months from the commissioning date. This obligation is covered through a valid Retention Bond and a Performance Bond, which are in the possession of the EEC.

The Lavumisa10MW Solar PV Plant’s installed capacity is 13.5 MW. During a sunny day and the diurnal generation cycle, it delivers a maximum of 10MW at the point of connection in Maloma as per contractual obligations with the EPC Contractor. The plant can deliver 12.5MW.

From the commissioning of the solar PV plant to date, a total of 24GWh has been exported to the grid, saving the country the cost of energy imports and improving local security of supply. This is so far in line with the design criteria for the plant.

Excess power generated will be used to power the first of its kind utility scale 1MWh Battery Energy Storage System, which is currently at the advanced stage of integration into the solar PV plant.

…Eswatini has 114.6 MW deficit in electricity

Even though it was revealed that South Africa’s Eskom has agreed to supply Eswatini with electricity beyond 2025, the country has a lot to do to be self-sustained in power.

Eswatini needs at least 240MW to be self-sustained but it currently owns and operates four hydro power plants that provide 70.4 MW of power and contribute 15 to 17 percent of the total energy consumed in Eswatini. These are Maguga (19.8 MW), Ezulwini (20 MW), Edwaleni (15 MW), Maguduza (5.6 MW) and the Lavumisa solar plant which generates 10 MW.

Another source of power as revealed by Mkhonta is Ubombo Sugar where the company gets 55 MW which the sugar company generates through molasses.

There are currently five IPPs operating power plants in Eswatini with a total installed capacity of close to 110 MW made up of hydro, biomass and solar PV plant technologies. The rest of the electricity required is imported from South Africa (Eskom) and occasionally through the Sea Cables in Mozambique through the Motraco network (EDM).

This means Eswatini has a deficit of 114.6 MW to be self-sustained in power.

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