The future is here. At least that is the view South Africa is taking on energy. The country has announced it will build the world's biggest solar power plant.
To be based in North Cape, South Africa's biggest province and one of its poorest, the $6 billion Cape Wind Project would reduce carbon emissions and generate one-tenth of the country's energy needs. This is needed, say officials, in a country where more than 90 percent of the population is dependent on coal-fired power stations. And while more than 83 percent of the population now has electricity (compared to less than 40% of households at the end of apartheid), power outages are still common countrywide.
According to recent studies, South Africa consumes 45-48GW of power annually, a figure that is estimated to double over the next 25 years.
According to environmental expert Michanna Talley, this is a great move for South Africa economically and environmentally. "It is significant that South Africa is doing this due to their large population, their large land area, and their large economy. This would allow for other large countries to see the potential benefits that could be gained in their own countries if they were also to take on a solar power plant project of this size," explains Talley, author of The Effect of Land Use on Biodiversity in Stormwater Ponds. "The issue of global warming has moved to the forefront of environmental issues of the world as a whole. There are multiple theories present, which aim to somehow attempt to reverse – or at least halt - the effects of our human lifestyle on Earth. One such way of doing this is through building a solar power plant. Because South Africa is one of the largest countries, both based on land area and population, it is arguably a good place for the world's largest plant. Also because of South Africa's size, the possible success of the plant would be an example to other countries."
The project entails building giant mirrors and solar panels. Initially it would produce 1,000 megawatts, or 1GW. To fund the project, South Africa is seeking foreign and domestic investors. It will also create up to 12,300 jobs. U.S. engineering and construction group Fluor will create a master plan. And on Nov. 16, South Africa inked a deal with Chinese company Yingli Solar to build a $435 million manufacturing plant with a local partner.
"The immediate benefits would be diverse. Because electricity in South Africa is lacking for some residents, the power plant may allow for better electricity throughout the country. Also, because the plant will be in an area that is considered poor, the manufacture of the plant may lead to a boost in the economy and therefore a better quality of life for those living in relative close proximity to the plant," Talley points out. "The long term benefits will aid the environment as a whole, as well as animals, plants, and humans. Currently South Africa is coal-dependent. Burning coal leads to smog, acid rain, and air toxins. All of these things further global warming. Should there be a decrease or a removal of these things from the environment altogether that could lead to a lower incidence of health problems, such as asthma and cancer. Also, with a decrease in acid rain, the fish in the lakes would become safe for consumption. Acid rain also can lead to the damage of trees and buildings. Overall the improvement of the environment as a whole would lead to a better way of life for plants, animals and people."
According to Talley, South Africa may become an energy trendsetter with this groundbreaking plant. "This may very well be the start of a new trend for other governments. It is yet to be seen whether the project will ultimately be successful. If it does prove to be successful it is likely that other countries may follow suit,” says Talley.