Solar power in the spotlight

South African government was on Tuesday urged to increase the share of solar energy within the country’s overall energy generation capacity.

This week government is holding hearings into its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010, which seek to reduce the country’s heavy reliance on coal power.

Jose Alfonso Nebrera, chairman of the European Solar Thermal and Electricity Association (ESTELA), said the government must use the opportunity to allocate at least 2GW of concentrated solar power (CSP) by 2020.

Nebrera said this would provide the foundation for South Africa to become a major player in the emerging CSP industry for both the domestic and export market.

In term of the draft IRP, the government has currently allocated 200MW of concentrated solar power (CSP) by 2015 and 600MW by 2019.

Pancho Ndebele, chairman of the Southern Africa Solar Thermal and Electricity Association (SASTELA), said this was far below what South Africa has the potential to achieve.

“In fact, we should be targeting at least 2 GW of CSP by 2020,” Ndebele said.

Ndebele said allocating a greater capacity towards solar would also enable South Africa to become a major player in the emerging CSP industry and would support the government’s New Growth Path initiative by providing thousands of jobs and upskilling low-skilled workers.

He also said scale was vital in order for the IRP to effectively unlock South Africa’s abundant solar resources.

“For South Africa to become a major player in the solar industry from both a manufacturing and generating perspective, we really need to look at expanding and building upon the opportunities within the solar energy field,” Ndebele said.

“Current targets that have been set out by the government in terms of solar energy generation capacity are too low to stimulate the solar industry,” he said, adding that if the government allocated a greater target towards solar power it would attract manufacturers, investors and developers to develop the solar power industry.

Nebrera also presented the results of a recent study conducted by ESTELA at the SASTELA Inaugural Workshop.

The study revealed that generation costs of Solar Thermal Electricity could be reduced by up to 30 percent in 2015 and by more than 50 percent by 2025.

“The cost of harnessing solar energy is already declining due to constant improvements being made to the technology and international studies have shown that the cost of generating solar power could be reduced significantly over the next ten years,” Nebrera said.

Nebrera said the adoption of effective solar energy targets was particularly crucial for countries such as South Africa, which not only had abundant levels of solar irradiation but also had a need for further job creation and investment.

“Given that solar thermal electricity generates more jobs per MW across the value chain than most renewables and conventional energy sources, it is urgent that policy makers and society at large understand the role solar electricity can play in the IRP 2010,” he said.

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