Investors keen on solar park

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Upington – More than 400 local and foreign investors, who attended the two-day Solar Park conference organised by the Department of Energy, went back to their boardrooms with a feeling of enthusiasm on Friday, as prospects for the project appeared more positive.

The investors from countries such as France, India, South Korea and United States arrived in Upington in the Northern Cape on Thursday for a conference aimed at laying the foundation for a 5 000 MW solar park in the area.

South Africa needs an investment of more than R150 billion to get the project off the ground and government is hoping to get buy in from the private sector to meet the costs. Such a solar park could be a first for the world and could demonstrate South Africa’s ability to convert to a green economy as recommended by the United Nations.

A task team would now be established, consisting of both investors and government officials, to further advise Energy Minister Dipuo Peters on the establishment of the solar park.

Peters, who opened the conference on Thursday, described the initiative as a milestone for South Africa, which has over the centuries largely depended on coal for its energy.

An initial 1 000 MW of the solar park could be up and running by 2012. Government has agreed to look at certain policy issues as the development of an Integrated Energy Plan and rapid facilitation of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

While it was clear that a lot of groundwork still needed to be done, officials remained optimistic on Thursday, saying the closing discussions of the conference revealed a keen interest in the project that looks set to create more that 15 000 jobs.

“I think we have achieved what we came here to do, which was to try to get investors to be exposed to the plans we have as a country to diversify our energy mix and reduce our carbon emissions… a lot of positive feedback came out of it,” the department’s Acting Director-General Ompie Aphane said.

BuaNews understands that one investor had already pledged a guarantee of more than R1 billion towards the project, while an Indian businessman promised a start-up funding for training purposes. Aphane confirmed that an investment pledge was made to “the tune of a billion” by a European investor but could not give more details.

Mike Roussos, CEO of Solar Power Generation, said the conference had given investors an idea of what to expect as the feasibility study gets to its final stages.

“It was a great conference… there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, but what the conference has done was to show that there are processes in place to resolve some of the challenges that may still be there,” he said.

“What is important for us is that government is serious and they have started a feasibility study on the matter. What we need to do now is to go back and assess our positions,” added Roussos.

Rajesh Singh, from Solar Options, also felt that further dialogue was needed to engage investors on certain tariff issues and the details of the interpretation of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

“The feeling is that while we appreciate this platform, more still needs to be clarified on the issue of tariffs, whether Eskom will be the sole owner of the network, what is the preliminary roll out plan and the cost involved. We don’t have that information [yet].” – BuaNews 

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