29 September 2010 – South Africa could produce its first solar power from a solar park by 2012, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Africa’s largest economy is increasingly looking towards renewable energy sources to help plug a chronic power shortage and decrease its dependence on the coal-fired power stations that provide most of its electricity.

The Department of Energy and the U.S-based Clinton Climate Initiative have identified Upington in South Africa’s semi-arid Northern Cape province as a potential site for the park, with a feasibility study ongoing.

The department will hold an investors conference on October 28-29 and could ask for bids for potential investments as soon as early next year.

"The results thus far indicated that the conditions in the Northern Cape are ideal for the establishment of a Solar Park primarily due to the intense solar radiation in this province," Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said.

The solar park would be built in stages, depending on investors’ appetite and the rise of power demand in the country, to finally supply 5,000 megawatts of solar power as a viable and cost-effective alternative to electricity produced from coal-fired power plants.

 "We think these will be good investments to make," said Ira Magaziner, Chairman of the Clinton Climate Initiative.

"Within a few years, once you get to about 1,000 MW, solar power will be lower-cost than coal-fired power in South Africa."

The government said it would be open for proposals for both photovoltaic plants — mainly used to supply peak power — and for concentrated solar power plants, which could be used as baseload power.

 A PV plant could come on stream within six months to a year after the start of construction, while a thermal solar plant would take two to three years to be built. The ministry said the construction of the solar park could cost up to $15 million, while the cost of the solar plants would run into billions of dollars. The majority of the investment would be carried by the private sector, it said.