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South Africa joins world’s top 10 list of nations for utility-scale solar power

South Africa has moved into the top 10 rankings of countries harnessing renewable energy from the sun, having connected more than half-a-gigawatt of utility-scale solar power to the national grid, according to a new survey.

Figures released by Wiki-Solar (2-page / 608 KB PDF), a leading authority on the deployment of utility-scale photovoltaic power stations of 5 to 10 megawatts (MW) and above, said South Africa now has 15 solar plants connected to the grid as of last month.

According to Wiki-Solar, the installed capacity of the other nine countries on the list with utility-scale power plants were the US (with 349 plants together generating 6,498 MW), China (4,607 MW), Germany (3,428 MW), India (1,897 MW), Spain (1,680 MW), the UK (1,523 MW), Italy (875 MW), Canada (714 MW), and France (677 MW). Wiki-Solar defines ‘utility-scale solar’ as 4 MW and above.

Four large scale solar plants have come online in South Africa in recent weeks including two 66 MW plants at Lesedi and Letatsi, developed by US-based SolarReserve and South Africa’s Intikon Energy. Last month, the Herbert and Greefspan project, built by the US Sunpower Corporation, also came on line. All four projects were part of the first round of South Africa’s independent power producer procurement programme for renewable energy.

Wiki-Solar said the programme “seemed to get off to a slow start” while connection agreements were negotiated with national power utility Eskom. However, with other solar plants under construction in the country, “South Africa should be climbing further up the table in the coming months”, Wiki-Solar said.

A 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy in South Africa set a target of 10,000 gigawatt hours of power to be produced by 2013 from renewables, mainly from biomass, wind, solar and small-scale hydropower. South Africa’s government said this was equivalent to replacing two 660 MW generating units at Eskom’s combined coal-fired power stations. Eskom generates about 95% of electricity used in South Africa and some 45% of the electricity used in Africa.

Figures released by South Africa’s government earlier this year (2-page / 128 KB PDF) said the country’s renewable energy programme had already attracted more than 150 billion rand ($14bn) in foreign direct investment.

In 2012 the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, agreed to invest around $143 million in direct financing and coordination of around $264m in parallel loans to support the construction of concentrated solar power projects in South Africa.

IFC said that in addition to its own funds and the other loans it arranged, the organisation had blended $41.5m in concessional loans through the multi-donor Clean Technology Fund.

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