South Africa plans to complete a study into the viability of a 5,000 megawatt solar energy park

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Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) — South Africa plans to complete a study into the viability of a 5,000 megawatt solar energy park, which will be the world’s largest if built, by the end of this month.

Initial estimates indicate that the plant, which may be built in Upington in the Northern Cape, could cost as much as 150 billion rand ($21.1 billion), government spokesman Themba Maseko told reporters in Cape Town today. The study is being conducted by South Africa’s Department of Energy with the Clinton Climate Initiative.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by South African Energy Minister Dipuo Peters and representatives from the Clinton Climate Initiative in October 2009 to develop the plant. South Africa is battling a power shortage after the government halted expansion plans by state-owned power producer Eskom Holdings Ltd. for four years until 2004 while it tried and failed to convince companies to build power plants.

If the plan goes ahead, it “would be the largest single solar project yet in planning,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a London-based industry research group.

“The project would have to be developed in stages,” she said, and estimates that the plant will take five years to plan and finance and then another five years to build.

“It would be quite surprising to see the first phase begin construction in less than five years. Several much smaller projects have been in planning for more than 15 years.”

The largest solar power plant currently in operation is a 64 megawatt solar thermal energy project in Nevada, U.S., Chase said.

Eskom is planning a 100 megawatt solar thermal energy project in Upington. The project, which received funding from the World Bank, is expected to be completed by 2014.

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