Africa Takes Lead in the Largest PV Hybrid Thermal-Solar Power Plant

Creating Africa’s largest PV hybrid thermal-solar power plant, the Finnish technology group – Wartsila is all set to deliver a PV solar plant – 15MW in Burkina Faso. While the plant is likely to be operational next year, the PV solar development is planned to be integrated with the existing Wartsila 55-MW thermal plant (which runs on heavy fuel oil), in order to power IAMGOLD’s Essakane Mine – situated northeast 220km of the Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.

“The project has been motivated by an appetite to lower operating costs via reducing fuel usage, but also by a desire to reduce CO2 emissions” manager of business development – Jerome Jouaville (Wartsila Energy Solutions).

Jouaville further adds “it’s not an uncommon situation. In fact, we see many potential customers interested in this kind of hybrid solution, particularly over the African continent”

As per Wartsila estimation, the addition of solar PV will significantly enable a fuel consumption reduction up to 6 million litres per annum, including the reduction in CO2 annual emissions up to 18,500 tons.

As Jouaville believes; successful interface between solar PV plants and thermal is the key to such hybrid project and this is something that is achieved by means of control systems.

“ In order to successfully introduce solar PV, and offset some thermal generation capacity, we need to design and ensure that any time we push solar PV, we still have enough spinning reserve in the system to meet the mine’s base demand, of roughly 40MW, even in the event of cloud-cover, or engine shutdown” – says Jouaville

Alternatively, Director of business development, renewables, Karim Wazni told Renewable Energy World that “Hybrid generation is about achieving the best of both worlds. Combining thermal power plants with solar or wind power, helps us bring the reliability, availability and flexibility of thermal power plants together with the low cost of electricity derived from renewable energy sources”

He also added that the additional benefit is actually to reduce customer’s exposure towards fluctuating fuel prices.

Until now, Wartsila is adapting to its operating system of diesel engine to fully accommodate the PV solar generation.

“The system will manage outputs and loads, and control engines according to solar PV output to ensure we meet demand whilst keeping enough spinning reserve in the system. The priority for us is to deliver something that avoids jeopardising mining operations” says Jouaville

However, the perennial concern for all the energy-intensive industries, and the basic cause for showing reluctance to switching towards renewables, despite potential economic benefits, is the reliable, sustained power supply.

Nevertheless, Wartsila and Jouaville is confident and truly believes that hopefully they will be able to emphasize the need of hybrid technology with the success of this project.

While for sure it is a stepping stone to renewable industry, but it comes with the timeline of making conventional thermal plants offline, also stretching out for years to come, making hybridization a promising interim solution.

Also considering these circumstances, the notion of including battery storage seems pretty logical in terms of lessening reliance and enhancing plant resilience on engines.