Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ghana utility solar cap casts doubt on ‘Africa’s largest’ PV power plant

The future of a planned 155MW PV project in Ghana that had been expected to become Africa’s largest looks uncertain after it emerged that utility-scale solar in the West African country is to be capped temporarily at 150MW.

Individual projects vying for support under Ghana’s solar feed-in tariff are to be restricted to a maximum of 20MW within that overall limit until the country’s first large PV projects are built and their impact on its grid assessed.

Ghana’s authorities have been forced to introduce the cap after being overwhelmed with applications for generation licences under the country’s fledgling feed-in tariff programme.

Details of the measure emerged yesterday at the first day of the Solar & Off-Grid Renewables West Africa conference taking place in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

Addressing the conference, Ghana’s deputy minister for power, John Jinapor, said he was encouraged by the “overwhelming interest” among investors in utility-scale solar in Ghana, but said the imposition of restrictions had been made necessary to “maintain the integrity of the national grid”.

He said the 150MW cap would be in place for the “short to medium term” for PV projects not incorporating grid stability or storage measures. Individual projects will be restricted to 20MW for the main Ghana Grid Co transmission network or 10MW for distribution network projects, Jinapor said.

“Let me emphasise that these are only interim measures and would be reviewed from time to time as the grid network is upgraded. I have directed the Energy Commission to ensure strict adherence to the above provisions,” he added.

The overall and individual project caps raise questions over the future viability of the Nzema project announced two years ago, which at 155MW exceeds both.

When the project was first revealed in December 2012 by its British developer, Blue Energy, it was billed as Africa’s largest planned PV power plant. It attracted significant publicity and appeared to herald Ghana’s arrival on the scene as a new torchbearer for solar in Sub-Saharan Africa. PV Tech contacted Blue Energy but it had not responded to questions at the time of publishing.

Indeed, interest in the FiT, introduced under Ghana’s 2011 renewable energy, was such that a pipeline of applications soon built up to 29 projects totalling some 2,155MW. But that level of deployment was soon revealed to be far more than Ghana’s limited grid was capable of handling.

Speaking to PV Tech, Ghana’s director of Renewable energy, Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, said a study of Ghana’s grid capacity completed last year with the support of the German government had revealed potential to support 250MW of solar.

However, he said the Energy Commission, Ghana’s power regulator, had opted for a lower initial cap of 150MW over two to three years to allow time for assessment.

Ahiataku-Togobo claimed he did not have any specific information relating to the fate of the Nzema project.

But the cap rules laid down by the Energy Commission would seem to suggest the Nzema project will be unable to proceed at the scale initially planned, at least for the time being or unless it incorporates the necessary grid or storage measures.

“The information we have received from the energy commission is that in order to maintain the integrity of the grid, these are the limits that have been set in collaboration with Ghana Grid Co,” Ahiataku-Togobo said. “If after 150MW we realise the impact is not significant, it will open up and be expanded.”

Ghana’s first competitive tender

As part of the 150MW projects falling with the cap, Ahiataku-Togobo revealed that the Ghanaian authorities were planning to hold what would be the country’s first competitive solar tender.

He said the tender would be for one 20MW project and was aimed at establishing whether the introduction of a competitive process could drive down the price of solar energy in Ghana.

He cited the example of the United Arab Emirates where a recent tender resulted in what is thought to the lowest price ever bid for a solar project.

“We believe that is going to help us get the least cost option. If we are able to do that and it comes so low, we will use that as the benchmark,” Ahiataku-Togobo said, adding that the power minister would reveal details of the tender “very soon”.

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