© CZAR/Kad Servives

The Zagtouli solar photovoltaic power plant in Burkina Faso will begin operating in August 2017. VINCI Energies is one of the companies implementing this large-scale project.

If there’s one abundant resource in Africa, it’s the sun. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects solar energy to represent 14% of installed power capacity in Africa by 2030. The Zagtouli photovoltaic power plant, located in a suburb of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and scheduled to begin operating in August 2017, is one of the projects contributing to this rise in solar power on the continent.

Thanks to the expertise of Omexom, VINCI Energies is building the 33.7-megawatt (MW) plant for Sonabel, Burkina Faso’s national electric utility. Solarworld is supplying the PV panels. The project is financed by a grant from the European Development Fund and a loan from the French Development Agency (AFD). This funding requires the beneficiaries to use supplies from either the European Union or the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

Once in service, Zagtouli will be the largest photovoltaic power station in West Africa.

130,000 solar panels

Zagtouli represents a €37-million contract. “The distinctive feature of the project is that, in addition to building the solar plant as a turnkey deliverable, there is a two-year operation and maintenance component,” states Alexandre Haueisen, a director at VINCI Energies.

The solar plant is made up of 130,000 polycrystalline silicon panels with a peak unit power (maximum sunshine) of 260 watts, 1,800 structures of 72 modules inclined at 15 degrees, and 32 one-MW inverters. These inverters are used to transform direct current into 33-kV (kilovolt) alternating current. The solar plant is then hooked up to the Zagtouli substation.

“This substation was built in 2009 with the goal of connecting Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second-largest city, to the capital, Ouagadougou. Moreover, since Bobo-Dioulasso is already connected to Ferkessédougou in Ivory Coast, it improved interconnections between the countries,” adds Alexandre Haueisen.

Increasing electricity production while lowering the cost

With this solar power plant, Sonabel hopes to increase its production while lowering the cost of distribution, which is heavily subsidised by Burkina Faso. “The solar plant will be connected to a reliable substation, because solar power plants work when the network is energised, unlike thermal power plants, which can be stopped and started according to demand,” explains Alexandre Haueisen.

A 17-MW expansion is also planned for this site, financed by the European Investment Bank. Once it is in service, Zagtouli will be the largest photovoltaic power station in West Africa.

With 2,200 KWh per square metre per year, Zagtouli’s sunshine is significant, but the Harmattan (a wind from the northeast, often dry and dust-laden) and low precipitation in this region will require the panels to be cleaned frequently, as opposed to once every five years in France.

“But aside from this inconvenience, with solar power, there’s not a lot to do, except change a few fuses now and then,” says Alexandre Haueisen, for whom the second phase of solar energy development in Burkina Faso will involve the introduction of local off-grid solar plant.