NAMIBIA'S first solar power park.

NAMIBIA'S first solar power park, near Omaruru, is expected to add 4,5MW of electricity to NamPower's national grid by early next year.

The N$120 million Omburu Solar Park, owned by French investor InnoSun, is situated about five kilometres south of Omaruru and is the first renewable energy project in Namibia by an independent power producer (IPP).

Comprising of about 30 000 solar panels, the power park occupies 15 hectares. The panels are on self-adjusting 'tracker' mountings that allow them to face the sun all day long.

Officiating at the ground-breaking ceremony on Friday, Minister of Mines and Energy Isak Katali said government supports such projects and that Namibia has enough renewable energy and should just harness it more.

Partnership for the first Solar Power Park in Namibia

Partners in Namibia's first solar power park. From left are NamPower's managing director Paulinus Shilamba, Minister of Mines and Energy Isak Katali, InnoSun's CEO Gregoire Verhaeghe and his wife. (Photograph by Adam Hartman)

"Other investors just talk but nothing happens. InnoSun came to my office twice to discuss their plans and then to invite me to the groundbreaking ceremony.It's happening. That is what government supports, and we will continue to support InnoSun because they have realised their plans," he said.

Katali also spoke about the serious need for energy sources independent of other countries and the important role of investors in Namibia's energy security in a region where supply is strained.

The minister said NamPower has already embarked on prospective bulk supply projects, yet highlighted the need for smaller decentralised projects that could carry Namibia through critical times of regional power shortage."There could be hundreds of these smaller projects. There must just be 15 hectares of land lying around and a willing investor, and it will be able to carry us through critical stages," Katali said.

NamPower's managing director Paulinus Shilamba said SADC countries depended on each other through the regional power pool, and that power shortage was affecting all due to population and economic growth, and so each country was taking care of their own needs.

He said Namibia, which is heavily reliant on South Africa's Eskom, was 'cut out' on about four occasions this year.

"NamPower must ensure the lights stay on in Namibia. There is no guarantee that load-shedding will not take place here," he said.

An N$84 million loan, which is part of the N$120 million project cost, was signed between InnoSun and the Development Bank of Namibia. A short term critical supply programme was started to ensure that supply gaps are bridged over the next five years until a bulk supply project is implemented.

As part of the programme, the national power utility also dished out one million energy-saving light bulbs and 30 000 solar heaters over the past few years.

"We will only be successful with the combined efforts of all stakeholders including investors and independent power producers," he said, rubbishing claims that NamPower was 'monopolising' power supplies. "This is not true. We are a monopoly by default because there is no one else, but we are always inviting others to come on board."

InnoSun's CEO Gregoire Verhaeghe said the power will be sold to NamPower as from next year, as per power supply agreement signed in December 2013.

He added that once this Omburu plant is up and running, he may just take on Katali's invitation for establishing more plants in the other regions.