South Africa has built the largest solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere, Africa and the Middle-East region and it only took 28 months.
The 175MW facility which lies in the mostly arid land of De Aar in Northern Cape and spans across 473ha was inaugurated by the country’s Minister of Energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson on Thursday afternoon.
“The inauguration of the Solar Capital De Aar 3 marks the commercial operation of the 17th Solar Photovoltaic plant in the Northern Cape Province, which has become the country’s mecca for the development of renewable energy sources, said Joemat-Pettersson.
In the first six months of 2015 South Africa’s electricity utility, Eskom, was forced to cut power frequently, damaging the country’s economic growth however this year it does not expect to implement electricity cuts until at least August.
The 4.8 billion rand ($315 million) development by the department in partnership with Solar Capital will be exported into the national electricity grid and be able to power approximately 75 000 houses in South Africa.
About 90 per cent of the country's electricity is generated in coal-fired power stations and that dependence needs to be reduced to lower carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the Cop21 deal requirements.
Joemat-Pettersson reiterated that although renewable energy is highly beneficial, the country needs nuclear energy.
Considering many countries in Europe are scaling down their reliance on fossil fuels and moving high percentages of their national energy grids to renewable energy, many struggle to understand how it, with only a fraction of the irradiation levels Africa has, can be so successful and have South Africa invest more into nuclear instead of solar.
“South Africa is not an industrialised country, we cannot compare South Africa with Europe – South Africa is a developing country, not industrialised – we still have a long way to go to industrialise our country and for that – we need an energy mix, which isn’t too reliant on coal or renewable energy, which has a balance towards achieving our climate change commitments.” said the energy minister at a media briefing.
She adds: “We have to reduce our reliance on coal, we have one of the best capacities for nuclear energy in the world, Nuclear energy does not require fresh water - South Africa is becoming a water scarce country... water issues will continue to determine what it is we can do for industrialisation.
At the beginning of the month, a 9.4% tariff increase was granted to Eskom, Chairman of Solar Capital Paschal Phelan reckons “this rising cost of electricity is needed in order to meet the interest of capital costs of building new facilities and the cost of coal, among other things." However, he adds "South Africa should rather invest in the expansion of renewable energy, in particular solar, which provides energy at a substantially lower cost to coal.”
Phelan adds: “This solar price is also fixed for a period of 20 years making the cost saving consistent and predictable. This cost saving would in turn assist in preventing the increase of Eskom tariffs in the future.”
Solar Capital De Aar 3 created 369 jobs during construction and will spend 24 million rand in the town by the end of the year.