South Africa enters global top 10 for utility scale solar

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South Africa has become the tenth-largest global market for utility scale solar, according to data compiled by solar watchdog Wiki-Solar.

Across the country, 15 large-scale solar PV plants of 4 MW or more generate 503 MW of solar PV annually, placing South Africa tenth overall. The leader is the U.S., which has 349 utility scale solar PV plants generating a combined total of 6,498 MW. In second place is China, with 4,607 MW, followed by Germany in third (3,428 MW), India in fourth (1,897 MW) and Spain rounding out the top five with 1,680 MW.

The U.K.’s surging utility scale sector currently boasts a cumulative capacity of 1,523 MW, placing it sixth (although the country is on course to rise rapidly up the ranks over the remainder of 2014 and early 2015 as installers look to beat the April 1 subsidy cut deadline), with Italy in seventh (875 MW), Canada eighth (714 MW) and France in ninth (677 MW).

South Africa’s encouraging performance is largely a result of the government’s renewable energy independent power producer program (REIPPP), which although off to a slow start has seen more than 60 MW of large-scale solar capacity added in the past month.

Round 1 of the REIPPP still sees a handful of further projects under development, with Rounds 2 and 3 in the pipeline suggesting South Africa could top 1 GW within the next nine months. The Department of Energy has released figures revealing that there are 17 preferred bidders in the third round of the REIPPP, with 47 projects signed off altogether for Rounds 1 and 2.

"France and Italy’s position in the top ten may soon be under threat," said Wiki-Solar’s chief researcher, Philip Wolfe. "Substantial pipelines of projects, not just in South Africa but also in Japan and Chile, suggest that these countries will soon be contenders for a place in the top ten."

Allied to wind and CSP power, South Africa is likely to boast 3,900 MW of renewable energy once the REIPPP reaches its conclusion.