Among emerging economies, South Africa has particular potential for solar power because of the country’s excellent solar resources. While fossil fuel power generation currently provides over 90% of its electricity, South Africa is seeking to reduce its reliance on carbon-intensive coal-based energy.
The Government of South Africa (GoSA) has developed policies to transition to a clean and sustainable energy system. In order to exploit its abundant renewable energy resources, South Africa has adopted an ambitious plan to add 20 GW of new renewable power generation capacity by 2030 (almost 50% of current generation capacity). Of this, 3.3 GW is expected to be from concentrated solar power (CSP). This is approximately equal to the current installed capacity of CSP worldwide.
CSP: A promising technology for low-carbon energy systems
CSP is a promising energy technology for low-carbon energy systems as, in combination with thermal storage, it can store solar energy in the form of heat to deliver clean power when it is most needed. It offers a real chance to act as a viable substitute for coal-based energy. Despite its potential, CSP technology lacks a long deployment track record and still comes with high technology risks, which translate to higher financing and overall costs. This means that most projects need public assistance in the form of low-cost public finance or political support to be bankable.
South Africa’s state-owned electricity utility Eskom is currently planning to install its first CSP power plant in Upington in the Northern Cape region of South Africa. In a recent Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) case study, conducted with support from the Climate Investment Funds Administrative Unit, CPI examined this plant to understand how public support helped advance this project. It also looks at the financial and technological challenges for Eskom and the reasons behind the extended project development time.
Eskom CSP plant in Upington now back on track
Eskom CSP remains one of the most ambitious CSP power tower projects under development anywhere outside of the U.S. with respect to its technology choice, capacity and storage. After several years in development, the project was placed on hold in 2009 during the global recession, largely because reduced access to capital and increased pressure from GoSA to improve the country’s energy security at low cost led Eskom to reassess its investment priorities.