9 February 2010

Botswana: All Eyes on Pilot Solar Power Station

Developers of the country's first solar power station, due to be built from September, are hoping the project's success will lead to the proliferation of similar stations and a shift away from non-renewable energy sources such as coal.

Botswana sole power station, Morupule, is a coal-fired operation, as are the planned Mmamabula Energy Project and the Mmamantswe Power Project.

Construction of the Phakalane one megawatt solar power station, funded by the Japanese government, is due to start in September, under a possible Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Management (EPCM) arrangement with a Japanese firm. At P83.8 million, the station will become Botswana's first photo voltaic power station, potentially opening avenues for further development of the solar power station sector. Tendering for various components of the station is set to begin in March and after completion the station will be connected to the national grid.

Yesterday, senior officials at the Embassy of Japan said they would closely monitor the performance of the pilot power station, with a view to possibly undertaking similar initiatives elsewhere in Botswana.

"The power station in Phakalane will be a small operation, one megawatt, but if it proves successful, we will consider more and bigger projects in Botswana. This is looking at the current situation with electricity in Botswana and the region.

"Botswana has abundant solar energy and this is also environmentally friendly, so we would consider it," the officials said.

It is understood further support from Japan towards photo voltaic stations would consist less of cash and more of technical support, given the confining costs of developing large solar power stations. With Botswana being a member of Japan's Cool Earth partnership, there could be room for negotiations, officials said.

"Botswana is classified as a middle income country and thus, there's a challenge for us to simply donate towards these projects. However, because these are environmental projects and because Botswana is a member of the Cool Earth Partnership, there is an exception to the rule," he said.

For their part, players in the domestic solar energy industry said the Phakalane station would provide a practical example from which similar stations could then be set up in other towns.

A jubilant Solar Industry Association of Botswana Treasurer, Felix Chavaphi, said the Phakalane station would allow Batswana to view solar power from "a different perspective." He said the station would bust the myth that solar power is not sustainable in the long term.

Chavaphi said with Botswana receiving ample sunshine, solar energy was the most logical solution to the country's short, medium and long term power supply issues. Experts estimate that Botswana receives 3 200 hours of sunshine each year or 21 millijoules per square metre per day.

"It's an exciting development and we are looking forward to seeing how this project progresses. We believe that at least 30 percent of our power should be from solar energy, and this should be directed toward domestic purposes.

"This new development also shows that government has accepted this technology, as it will also be going onto the national grid and this is very encouraging," he said. Chavaphi revealed that in some industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom, households generate their own solar power and pump into the national grid. These households then qualify for various rebates and incentives based on the amount of power they use.

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