“Overseas, South Africa is seen as one of the world's most important solar energy markets,” says Edwin Koot, CEO of international think-tank Solar Plaza. The company is renown for its solar conference, of which it has organised 40 around the world so far. “The country has ample sunshine, a lot of space and the demand for cheaper energy is growing.”
Research has shown that South Africa has on average 2500 hours of sunshine per annum, which comes down to 25% of the year including nightly hours. In addition, the radiation is said to be incredibly stable. This and the fact there is ample space in for instance the Northern Cape, makes the country the world's third best solar location.
All of this, and the fact that government has reserved a role for solar in South Africa's future energy mix has resulted in an increased number of foreign investors and solar companies eyeing the Rainbow Nation.
“Next week, we are organising our second solar energy conference in South Africa. Like last year, the bulk of delegates are from other parts of the world. That says a lot,” Koot notes.
Jigar Shah, solar expert and speaker at the 2013 The Solar Future South Africa, acknowledges South Africa's solar energy potential. He however stresses that the authorities have to play their cards right, and they have to do so quickly and strategically.
“Foreign investors and international companies seeking to tap into South Africa's solar potential want to be reassured that the government will not change its plans with regards to renewables. They want to know that there is a stable, strategic vision and a long-term commitment to solar,” Shah says, adding that other countries do have a solid vision.
“Take China, which has committed to install 10.000 MW this year alone. India too, is an important competitor when it comes to securing international solar investment,” he adds.
Dick Berlijn, originally from The Netherlands, currently runs the Pretoria-based solar development company SubSolar. He agrees with Shah and stresses that the national government needs to ensure that the risks attached to solar energy are managed properly.
“It is not the presence of opportunities that makes a country attractive to investors, but the absence, or rather the proper management of risks,” he notes. “Investors who are eyeing South Africa from a solar perspective are also watching other markets. In the end of the day, they will go for the market that is most favourable. That means that South Africa, as a potential solar investment location, should keep an eye on global developments and adapt in order to keep the interest of potential investors.”
According to Johan Buys of the Vrede en Lust wine farm in Franschhoek, it would be a waste not to make South Africa attractive among local and international solar stakeholders. He recently invested in a 220KW solar installation in his farm, and has no regrets.
“Solar is not only a great financial investment for a wine farmer, as it reduces the carbon footprint per bottle of wine significantly,” he says. “Wine and other farms have electrical loads that are incredibly well-matched to solar timing. Our solar system gives us a significant degree of independence from the grid. Our Levelised Cost of Energy on the solar side works out to a little less than the average daytime grid cost. It therefore pays its own way without counting the other benefits. We receive queries about our project on a weekly basis, so the interest is definitely out there!”
Apart from addressing South Africa's attractiveness as a solar location, The Solar Future South Africa – which takes place on 12 February in the Cape Sun hotel in Cape Town's city centre – will give an insight in how global solar developments impact the cost of solar energy in the Rainbow Nation, the position of solar in Eskom's future energy mix, what it takes to develop a large PV solar plant, and the reasons why solar may be the answer to the energy needs in the mining sector.
The conference line-up, besides Shah en Berlijn, includes Eskom's acting programme manager PV Tobias Bischof-Niemz, Karen Breytenbach from the National Treasury, various representatives from the Department of Energy and leading energy contractors and developers from around the globe.
More information about the conference can be found at: http://www.thesolarfuture.co.za/