Ten years ago, the South African renewable and solar energy landscape was completely different. Solar panels were not used as widely as they are now and the National Grid was able to keep up with demand.
Additionally, global warming has become a serious concern and there has been substantial investment in clean energy resources.
Investing in Large Scale Renewable Energy Resources
There has been an increase in global interest and investment in large-scale renewable energy. South Africa has followed suite with the Integrated Resource Plan. This infrastructure development initiative began in 2010 and will be completed in 2030.
Under this initiative, South Africa hopes to provide an additional 9600 megawatts by 2030 to rural and impoverished areas. The largest solar energy plant in South Africa is the Jasper Solar Energy Project, which is capable of powering 30 000 homes.
The Cost of Solar Power
Solar power is not only readily available in South Africa, but there has been also been a drop in the price of photovoltaic panels. The photovoltaic panels are responsible for absorbing solar radiation, which is then directly transferred to electrons which in turn produces an electric current. This form of solar energy is the most widely used, and the most affordable. There is a great need for so called green electricity in South Africa and it is easy to see why photovoltaic solar solutions are becoming more popular.
Concentrated Solar Power
Another form of solar power used in South Africa is concentrated solar power. More complex than using photovoltaic panels, this process involves using mirrors to redirect sunlight to a common focal point. The heat is then used to boil water which in turn is used to drive a series of turbines, much the same way that coal power stations function. Concentrated solar power is currently used at the KaXu plant near Pofadder and in Bokpoort and Redstone in the Northern Cape.
Disadvantages of Solar Power
While solar energy has become a major contributor to alleviating South Africa’s current energy crisis, it is not without its downfalls. Because solar energy can only be generated during the day, storing solar energy can be a problem. Dust builds on the surface of solar panels fairly quickly they must be cleaned regularly to ensure optimal absorption.
Solar Power and the National Grid
All of the completed solar power grids and plants in South Africa are currently linked to the National Grid administered by Eskom. On a sunny day the solar power grids are able to supply Eskom with more than 1 megawatt of power, which helps lower the risk of load shedding across the country. Choosing alternative energy sources offers a number of advantages which include continuous solar power, a smaller carbon footprint as well as a significant cost saving.