Energy minister
Dipuo Peters
 
Upington, South Africa — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 29 October 2010 – South Africa has started wooing investors for what could become the world’s largest solar project, to be built on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, and to provide an eighth of the country’s electricity.

More than 400 investors and solar industry insiders from as far away as India, South Korea, Spain and the United States descended on the tiny town of Upington in South Africa’s Northern Cape province yesterday for a conference aimed at laying the groundwork for a 5 000 MW solar park.

Energy minister Dipuo Peters said the park, which has an estimated price tag of R150 billion, would be funded mainly by private developers that would finance and build individual projects and sell power to the national grid.

She called the park a "win-win" project that would move South Africa toward a green economy and help break its long-time dependence on coal “’ currently about 90% of the country’s energy mix “’ while giving investors a share in one of the world’s best locations for solar power.

The area around Upington has some of the best conditions in the world for solar power, according to a pre-feasibility study by the non-profit Clinton Climate Initiative “’ a clean energy programme sponsored by former US president Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation.

The arid Northern Cape, which sits at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, has some of the strongest sunshine in the world, relatively developed infrastructure and seemingly endless expanses of flat, empty land.

“When you drive around here with a solar developer’s hat on, it’s magic. It’s flat, there’s good grid lines,” said Dick Berlijn, director of project development firm Subsolar.

Peters said the government hoped that by 2020 the solar park would have a capacity of 5 000 MW “’ about the amount produced by the very biggest coal-fired power stations. The country currently generates almost 40 000 MW nationally. She added the project was part of government plans to create 300 000 green economy jobs by 2020, and to make South Africa a global leader in solar energy.