SA solar park set to shine
GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa, Oct. 24 -- With all pre-feasibility tests having been completed, work can now proceed on the Northern Cape’s $20 billion solar energy complex that will project South Africa into the global energy limelight.
South Africa is currently the 12th highest emitter of greenhouse gases and the solar park, located in the Northern Cape’s ‘solar corridor’ and encompassing the areas of Upington, Groblershoop and Prieska, would supply one fifth of South Africa’s energy requirements and lessen the nation’s heavy reliance on non-renewable fuels like coal. South Africa’s environmental reputation has undergone much scrutiny recently, as a nation producing more than 94% of electricity from coal, and the solar park, as the biggest of its kind in the world, would help repair the tarnished environmental policy.
Due to the mix of solar technologies involved, both photovoltaic (PV) systems as well as concentrated solar power (CSP) systems, sections could be added incrementally with the 1 gigawatt ‘Phase 1’ estimated for completion in 2016. The project is being jointly funded by the South African government, energy utility Eskom, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) as well as other financial stakeholders, and are implementing a programmatic financing package that will enable the considerable financial implications to be met. By offering up the project to private investment the project diverts much of its pressure from the government and Eskom.
Andrea Lombard, a Geography and Environmental Studies Masters student at Stellenbosch University believes that this project could be hugely beneficial for the Northern Cape and had potential to be a tourist “attraction”, but also expressed fears about the park’s impact upon the province’s agricultural industry and the contestation of land. “The Northern Cape Province relies on commercial farming to a large extent and is arguably the province that produces the most agricultural produce in South Africa. Therefore, a project such as this one must be able to account for any interruptions in the farming industry in order to be self-sustaining”, says Lombard. “We cannot just implement all kinds of renewable energy and address the electricity shortage if it means that at some point we are going to have to import farming produce”, added Lombard.
The project could prove to be extremely productive for the Northern Cape as job creation estimates show more than 12,000 construction jobs would be required to reach full operational capacity of 5 gigawatts, with a further 3000 permanent jobs created for plant operation and maintenance. Furthermore, not included in these estimates were jobs created indirectly in the manufacturing sector. The combination of private sector component manufacture and construction job creation point towards a project that not only will have long-term benefits for all South African’s but more immediate benefits for the often neglected Northern Cape.
Pre-feasibility research by the Clinton Climate Initiative in the Northern Cape’s ‘solar corridor’ showed excellent and consistent solar radiation, making the areas surrounding Upington prime land for the park. Such an appraisal of South Africa’s solar potential serves to highlight the inefficiencies of South Africa’s energy industry in their lack of widespread solar initiation, whilst the proposed park can be seen as the first step in a new era of energy generation. Surprisingly, the solar park did not form part of the government’s Integrated Resource Plan despite references to numerous other small solar initiatives.
It remains to be seen whether the contributors to the project can maintain schedule estimates as Eskom still does not have the infrastructure in place for the transmission of the generated power, but should they succeed it will be a monumental achievement that will have broad implications for South Africa as a global innovator.