South Africa may still get most of its energy from coal, but in the country’s sunny Northern Cape province, a different electricity source is taking hold: solar steam.
A Spanish renewable energy company has opened three thermal solar plants – which use the sun’s heat to create electricity – in the province.
The plants – which use sun-heated salt to drive turbines – produce enough electricity to provide power to just short of a million people, or almost the province’s entire population, according to its operators.
Just as important, the plants have provided new jobs in a province with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country, at more than 40%, according to UN officials.
The first solar steam plant – KaXu Solar One, opened in 2015 in Pofadder – provided about 80 new permanent jobs, and about 1 700 temporary jobs, according to Sarah Marchildon, a spokeswoman for the UN climate change secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative.
The other two plants, including Xina Solar One, completed last year in Uppington, on the banks of the Orange River, have created another 45 permanent and 1 300 temporary jobs, she said.
“The region is now benefiting from stable, clean energy, and we are happy to have played a role in helping to solve South Africa’s electricity needs and improving the nation’s sustainability and energy security,” said Gerardo Rodriguez Pagano, the general director of Abengoa South Africa, which developed the plants.
The power plants – jointly owned by Abengoa Solar, the government’s Industrial Development Corporation and a community trust – are part of South Africa’s push to cut its climate-changing emissions by 2030, in line with its promises under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“KaXu has helped to unlock the South African concentrated solar power plant market, attract financiers, and drive down costs,” Marchildon said.
It is now “the first operational private-sector utility-scale concentrated solar power plant project in South Africa – and in the developing world,” she said.
Pagano, of Abengoa South Africa, said the Northern Cape’s sunny conditions – the best in the country – were the reason to put the first solar thermal plants there, but the company would be open to looking at replicating the plants in other areas of South Africa.