Developing country economies and societies stand to gain the most by leap-frogging 20th-century fossil fuel technologies and moving to center their energy infrastructures on more distributed renewable energy power and fuel sources. Such is the case in South Africa, where coal production and oil imports have long fueled development.
With its historic Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers (REIPP) auction program now under way, US–based solar, wind, and renewable energy technology companies and project developers, as well as those from China, Germany, India and other countries, are keen to expand internationally and participate in South Africa’s nascent renewable energy market. US development finance agencies, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), are keen to support both them and South Africa’s sustainable development efforts.
OPIC on Sept. 17 announced the approval of up to $250 million in financing that will enable US–based solar photovoltaic (PV) cell and module manufacturer MEMC Electronic Materials and its solar installation and project development subsidiary SunEdison to construct and operate a 60-megawatt (MW) PV facility in the Free State province city of Boshoff.
Solar Power Development, Black Economic Empowerment in South Africa
Joining MEMC and SunEdison in their winning REIPP auction bid to build and operate the solar PV facility are two local company partners, a requirement established with the passage of South Africa’s Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Act of 2007.
Carrying out and successfully completing the project should go a fair way toward demonstrating the true, overall costs and benefits of pursuing a ‘renewable energy first’ energy policy. In addition to supplying the region with clean, renewable electricity, the Boshoff solar power project will create good green jobs. Its successful completion and operation will also mean some 140,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions will not be going into the atmosphere.
South Africa relies on coal-fired power plants for 84% of its electricity. Through the REIPP, South Africa is working to reach a goal of bringing 3,725 MW of renewable power online by 2016. South Africa’s 2012 electricity consumption totaled 212.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh). Using a 20% capacity factor, the Boshoff PV facility should be able to produce around 105 million kWh of electrical energy per year.
“South Africa’s ambitious and impressive renewable energy program has established the country as a leader in the field,” commented OPIC President Elizabeth Littlefield. “We’re pleased to work with an experienced developer such SunEdison to deliver so many developmental benefits for South Africa, from the reduction of pollution and displacement of GHG emissions to the creation of local jobs and the realization of the country’s BEE program goals.”
Graphic courtesy: Solar Homes, South Africa
I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.