South Africa announces 1.5 GW solar park plan


South Africa’s energy ministry has announced it is to develop a 1.5 GW solar PV plant in the country’s Northern Cape as part of an effort to overcome persistent power shortages, a senior government official has revealed.

Ompi Aphane, deputy director general of South Africa’s Energy Ministry, told attendees at the recent South African Renewable Energy Conference in Cape Town that clean energy is the nation’s best hope in tackling chronic electricity shortages.

"We are putting the [solar] project in place and could open up the bidding process this year or early next," Aphane said. "It’s a question of a couple of months."

Exposed to an energy mix that is almost 95% coal, South Africa is so prone to regular blackouts that state utility Eskom often has to impose scheduled outages in order to protect the vulnerable grid. Power cuts currently amount to the equivalent of 10% of national consumption, or around 3 GW – a shortfall that renewable energy can help meet.

A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that Africa, which in the southern regions boasts some of the world’s highest levels of solar radiation, can produce around 25% of its energy needs from clean power within just 15 years.

"The technologies are available, reliable and increasingly cost-competitive," said IRENA director general Adnan Amin. "The onus now is on African governments to create conditions to accelerate deployment."

Rainer Baake, Germany’s state secretary for energy in the economy ministry, also spoke at the conference about green energy’s cost-effectiveness in the long run, particularly when compared to "dirty" coal and expensive nuclear energy.

"If you want to have expensive electricity you buy nuclear generators; if you want dirty electricity you burn coal," Baake told Reuters. "If you want clean energy in the long run that will be cheaper, you transfer to a renewable system, but the decision has to be made by your own government."

Despite these words of caution, South Africa is set to press ahead with plans to develop more than 9 GW of nuclear power at a cost of around $100 million, analysts have calculated.