Pashupathy Gopalan, SunEdison MD for Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa
Pashupathy Gopalan, SunEdison MD for Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa

ONE of the world’s largest solar energy companies, SunEdison, has its eye on working with South Africa’s commercial, industrial and mining industries to help them meet their energy and sustainability goals, the MD for Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, Pashupathy Gopalan, said in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

SunEdison SA broke ground on its first South African project, a 28MW solar plant in Limpopo, on Tuesday. The R1.2bn Soutpan project, in Limpopo’s Blouberg municipal area, is to be followed by a 30MW, R1.4bn project — Witkop, situated near Polokwane.

The Department of Energy selected the two solar parks in the first window of the independent power producer procurement (IPP) programme for renewable energy. They are expected to start producing electricity by next year, which will be sold to Eskom in line with a recently concluded 20-year power purchase agreement.

The government’s IPP programme is meant to produce 3,725MW of power from wind, concentrated solar energy, photovoltaism, small hydro-gas, biogas, biomass and landfill gas by 2016.

"We are going to use South Africa as our headquarters for sub-Saharan Africa (and) we see South Africa as a beautiful market for commercial, industrial and mining customers," Mr Gopalan said in an interview with Business Day.

Mr Gopalan said solar power technology could produce energy more cheaply than diesel generation, and many mines and industries ran several diesel generators in order to protect themselves against power grid interruptions.

SunEdison raised R2.6bn for its projects in South Africa, with Chinese firm Chint Solar, the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and the Kurisani Youth Development Trust. The PIC has a 39% interest in the two projects. A joint venture between SunEdison and Chint owns 51% of the project, and Kurisani has 10%.

Frost and Sullivan energy and power division leader Cornelis van de Waal said SunEdison’s involvement was a welcome foreign direct investment, especially as South Africa did not have many grid-connected alternative energy plants.

Mr Gopalan said SunEdison had been impressed by South Africa’s management of the IPP bid process, which was more efficient and thorough than others he had experienced across Southeast Asia.