SOUTH Africa’s largest photovoltaic solar power plant broke ground on Tuesday in the Vhembe district of Limpopo province.
This is the first South African plant to be built by global solar energy provider SunEdison, with partners CHINT Solar and the Public Investment Corporation.
The Soutpan Solar Park power plant has a maximum electricity generation capacity of 28 megawatts, which is small when compared to the output of the giant coal-powered stations Eskom is building. However, it is enough to power 20000 rural homes with clean energy.
Investment in solar energy was not attractive in the past because of the low electricity prices charged before the 2008 electricity crisis. Since then, prices have climbed steeply and should continue to, with Eskom asking for a 16% annual electricity tariff increase over the next five years.
The government has signed a first round of agreements with independent power producers that will see an initial 1400MW of renewable energy being added to South Africa’s energy mix, while bringing an estimated R47bn in new investment into the country.
SunEdison vice-president and managing director for South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, Pashupathy Gopalan, said South Africa has the potential to being the leading solar economy.
“South Africa has a lot of solar radiation in particular around the area of Limpopo . Secondly access to the national grid is vital as the further away from a substation a power plant is, the more investment has to be made making it more costly. So South Africa’s well-developed grid is a big advantage in the take-up of solar and other renewable energy sources.
“The availability of land is yet another crucial factor in encouraging investment.”
Gopalan said the country has the potential to meet up to 25% of its electricity needs.
Data from Germany, a country with the highest number of solar installations in the world, says it can generate close to 22000MW of power on a sunny day. The Soutpan solar park will be powered by the latest generation of silicon crystalline panels.
- This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times
Source: BD live
Image: Pashupathy Gopalan