Finnish energy group Wartsila has signed its first asset management agreement for a solar photovoltaic power plant.

It will assume full responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the Essakane plant in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.

The plant shares a control system with a thermal power plant which runs on 11 of Wartsila’s 32 heavy fuel oil engines.

The seven-year deal includes the daily operation of the plant, preventive, scheduled and corrective maintenance, and cleaning of the modules as well as co-ordination of operations with the thermal plant which shares the same control system.

Wartsila said its task “is to optimise the production of the PV plant and make sure that the thermal plant delivers effective, efficient and stable power with unsurpassed performance. In parallel, the thermal plant retains a sufficient number of engines in stand-by mode to cover potential fluctuations in the PV solar energy production.”

The company added that by maximising the PV plant’s production would in turn mean that less heavy fuel oil is needed for the thermal plant, “reducing both fuel costs and environmental impacts”.

The solar plant is owned by Essakane Solar SAS, part of EREN Renewable Energy (EREN RE), which develops, builds, finances, invests in and operates on long-term power projects in countries where renewable energy represents an economically viable solution to growing energy demands.

EREN RE has a portfolio of 650 MW of renewable energy assets in operation and under construction, and over 1500 MW of assets in development.

“This project represents a breakthrough in the industry,” said EREN RE Africa Business Development vice-president Christophe Fleurence, who added that hybrid solar PV engine solutions allow energy-intensive industries to enter an era of more climate-friendly operations, to improve business and to increase resilience to oil price variation.

The local operations of the plant in West Africa are remotely supported by Wartsila Expertise Centres, which continuously monitor the plant parameters and provide alerts to potential problem situations that may arise in the day-to-day operation of the facility.

Serge Begue, vice-president for South Europe & Africa at Wartsila Services, said the deal was “significant to in many ways. It is our very first operation and maintenance agreement for a solar plant, beginning an entirely new chapter in the story of Wartsila. In co-ordinating production of the two power plants, we will be able to combine our strong background in engine-based power production with our solar offering. We look forward to many years of successful cooperation with EREN RE.” 

Last month the World Bank approved $80m credit to Burkina Faso for its Electricity Sector Support Project. This financing will be used to incorporate low-cost solar resources into Burkina Faso’s energy mix and improve its distribution network.

It will also help electricity sector operators build their capacity and provide transactional advice to promote the development of private sector projects for independent power producers.

“With this additional financing, Burkina Faso will be able to access diversified energy sources such as solar, at a low cost,” said Cheick Kanté, World Bank Country Manager for Burkina Faso. “The World Bank stands ready to help the government, which aims to cover 100 per cent of electricity needs in urban areas and 40 per cent in rural areas, by providing reliable and affordable electricity by 2025.”

Alexis Madelain, World Bank task team leader, said that to achieve “this ambitious objective, the main challenges are to step up production capacities in order to reduce electricity shortages and meet the growing demand for energy services, while ensuring the safety and reliability of the supply of electricity”.

“It will also be necessary to ensure energy transition to less costly production sources, namely renewable energy and imports. Finally, the electric company should work toward balancing its finances in order to make the sector less dependent on budget transfers.”  

The Burkino Faso government’s strategy is to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and gradually shift the country’s production mix to renewable energy and electricity imports at an affordable cost.

This would also reduce the overall cost of electricity, which remains high in Burkina Faso, as well as minimize the country’s exposure to the risks of oil price and exchange rate volatility.

This strategy requires boosting energy production in order to overcome the capacity deficit and respond to strong demand growth. It also entails improving the national distribution network to facilitate the absorption of intermittent solar energy.