Cape Town - Not much happens in the small Karoo town of De Aar, but it’s harnessing what it has in abundance - sunshine.
With summer temperatures soaring above 40º Celsius, it’s home to the biggest solar energy farm in the southern hemisphere.
The Solar Park houses more than 167500 solar panels, stretches across 100 hectares and generates electricity for 19000 homes
The Northern Cape is home to more than half the 112 independent power producers (IPP), with more than 19 projects already connected to the grid with capacity of 900MW.The projects total over R200billion in investment.
De Aar hosted a renewable energy conference recently which focused on the country’s integrated renewable energy plan.
High on the agenda were transformation in the energy sector, solar power and key trends in renewable energy.
Delegates resolved to propose a renewable energy charter to harmonise government policy and community expectations in the energy sector.
The sector currently contributes R300billion towards the GDP of the country and accounts for 90000 jobs.
Cape Town’s target is for renew- able energy to make up 20% of its total power used by 2020 through initiatives using wind and solar resources.
Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas emphasised the need for a “green economy” across the country, citing it as low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.
She called for more innovation in renewable energy, citing a project developed by Professor Ernst Uken from CPUT.
He and his team developed a world first battery-less solar-powered sew- ing machine.
Fifteen of the photon-powered machines are in use in Kliprand in the Northern Cape, where local women produce overalls for the farm- ing community.
Driven by solar panels, the machines are conventional electric models converted to use 12V DC by replacing the ordinary motor with a car windscreen wiper motor.
Gift van Staden, Northern Cape MEC for social development, said the charter would provide for sustainable growth and broad-based transformation in the renewable energy sector, particularly in the IPP programme.
“The IPP programme remains a critical tool for the Northern Cape government to achieve radical economic transformation by ensuring shareholding by black business does not only get discussed for compliance purposes, but to ensure ownership patterns change visibly,” he said.
The Northern Cape government also made a submission to Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe for the creation of a support scheme for renewable energy projects focusing on community participation. The scheme is in draft form and will be submitted to the national department of energy.
Van Staden said female empowerment was an often overlooked transformation imperative.
“It has been my observation in other projects that women are not adequately represented in managerial positions.”
Some of the challenges to imple- menting renewable energy projects include the affordability of electricity, a skills shortage, the exclusion of communities where projects are based, habitat loss, the impact of hydroelectric facilities on aquatic ecosystems and reliability of supply. The emphasis was placed on solar power initiatives like Solar Park.
The pre-feasibility study analysis confirmed that the Northern Cape has “excellent and consistent sun, flat and sparsely-populated land, the ability to connect to the electricity grid at multiple points and wateravailable from the Orange River.”
Mokgadi Modise, chief director of clean energy at the department of energy, said solar energy contributed significantly to the energy supply mix and was second only to wind power in renewable energy supplies.
She said the government had been securing funding for solar water geysers since the inception of the programme in 2009 to try to reduce electricity demand, shield the poor from the escalating cost of power and address the impact of climate change.