The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

South Africa Is Primed for Major Solar Development

South Africa enjoys some of the best sunshine in the world all year round and its electricity is among the most expensive on the planet. The country’s lofty solar ambitions therefore come as little surprise: Forty-two percent of South Africa’s newly-installed energy capacity should be renewable by 2030. Its solar power generation is expected to reach 1,050 MW by 2015 in contrast with just 25 MW in 2012. The country is also expected to have installed over four million solar panels and have the capacity to set up 1.6 million more by the same date. South Africa’s solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity should also reach 8.4 GW by 2030.

As a result South Africa is the most attractive emerging country for solar energy, according to a report released in January by intelligence firm IHS. It achieved a score of 66 out of 100 in IHS’s Emerging Markets Attractiveness Index for the final quarter in 2013, blazing ahead of its rivals by 17 points.

“South Africa has very good solar resources in terms of power generation potential and the potential for solar is higher than initially thought,” says Silvia Macri, a senior research analyst for Middle East and Africa renewables at IHS. “Because of the high cost of technology and other challenges South Africa ended up underestimating its potential capacity at the start,” adds Macri. In 2012, South Africa upped its projections for its 2020 renewable energy capacity by 3.2 MW, from 3.7 MW. 

South Africa is currently working through the first two rounds of its tender process for solar PV projects. The financial closure of these is anticipated to be in 2015. The southern African nation has commissioned and in some cases completed some massive-scale solar projects already. Major PV initiatives which have been successfully tied up in 2014 so far include Herbert 1 — a 22-MW plant that has been set up in the Northern Cape with 90,000 locally-manufactured panels. Another is the 50-MW De Aar facility which is due to become operational in April 2014. Meanwhile French firm Soitec is making firm progress with its 44-MW Touwsrivier plant in the country. The build of the power plant is over 60 percent complete and Soitec anticipates that it will be finished within the next few months. By March, the project had already commissioned half of its capacity.

Progress is equally being made outside the realm of PV. Demand for solar geysers and solar heating in everything from two-bedroom houses to sprawling office blocks is on the up, for example. 

“We have been around for 20 years and when we started the market was very small. It’s still very young but now demand is steadily starting to increase,” says Nikki Van Houten, marketing manager at SunTank, the leading solar heating company in South Africa. "Since the country’s electricity supplier Eskom started having problems with coal supplies in 2008, the solar industry has exploded, helped along by government subsidies,” she adds. The South African government has been enticing households and companies to invest in solar heating systems and solar panels by offering subsidies that cover around 40 percent of the costs of solar systems- in parallel with the tactics that world leaders in solar power generation like Germany have pursued.

Nonetheless, experts think that South Africa has a long way to go before it becomes a trend setter in the field of solar power. “At the moment, I don’t see much innovation from the solar power industry,” says Wim Jonker Klunne, a senior researcher for renewable energy at the Pretoria-based Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Macri from IHS also says that “the focus is on producing energy and I don’t see South Africa focusing too much on innovative applications. Of course, things might change but at the moment power generation is the main drive.” Although in most areas of solar research, South Africa is behind America and Europe it has made scientific breakthroughs in the past- for example in the realm of thin-film solar technology. Thin-film solar cells are widely regarded as a more cost-effective alternative to traditional solar cells. The University of Johannesburg first started developing them in 1993, and eventually set up a pilot plant. In April this year a pilot plant for locally-developed thin-film solar technology opened in Stellenbosch.

Some observers are optimistic about the future of innovation in the country. “South Africa is definitely behind the rest of the world but there is a lot of effort and investment now in solar research in the South African universities and so on,” says Van Houten from SunTank. “There is more experimentation now as well, for example with with developing solar houses off the grid,” she adds. South Africa has installed solar panels, batteries and inverters in 30,000 off-grid households so far as part of the government’s aim to ensure 92 percent of the population has access to electricity by this year.

There also needs to be a culture change within South African companies if solar is to truly take off, however, say experts. “In general, people in South Africa don’t think long-term and solar is a long term investment,” says Klunne from CSIR. “Even though the price of electricity is no longer cheap, there does not seem to be the same drive here like in Europe that companies need to save energy and save money through long term renewable investments,” he adds. 

Subsidies for other solar technology — like panels and heating systems — may have distorted the market in South Africa as well, experts argue. “Some companies have come to rely on these subsidies to keep prices low — the ones that are importing cheap parts from China and so on and targeting the lower end of the market,” says Van Houten from SunTank. “Sometimes the government pulls and then reinstates the subsidies too, which leads to fluctuations. As a result a lot of companies have fallen out of the market and it is the older, bigger companies which have survived.”

Lead image: Solar Panel in South Africa via Shutterstock

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox - FREE!

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World Magazine and our award-winning e-Newsletter to stay up to date on current news and industry trends.

 Subscribe Now



A Case Study in Energy-Transition Momentum

Tim King South Australia is clearly at the forefront of the global energy transition as it establishes a fast-moving model oth...

Listen Up: Can I Get Solar if my Roof is Shaded

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World Rooftop solar panels only work when they are in direct sunlight. So if you have a partially shaded roof, the output o...

US Senate Democrats Unveil Energy Bill That Restores PTC and Extends ITC

Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg Senate Democrats unveiled a bill that would provide more tax credits for renewable energy while killing some tax ince...

US, China Solar PV Players Team Up, Invest $100MM in Chile, Uruguay and Japan

Andrew Burger Private equity infrastructure specialist Hudson Clean Energy Partners and Hong Kong-based independent power producer ...


Customized Energy Solutions Executes Agreement with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (“MassCEC”) and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (“DOER”) for Important Energy Storage Study

Customized Energy Solutions (CES) has entered into agreements with Massachusetts Clean ...

New Officers and Board Members Announced by IREC

A new slate of officers was elected by IREC's board of directors at its recent annual m... Welcomes Jennifer Delony as Associate Editor

PennWell Corporation is pleased to announce that Jennifer Delony has joined the company...

CleanTX Releases New White Paper on the Future of Texas Solar in Texas

We love this new White Paper from our clean energy partners CleanTX


Renewable Energy Starts to Makes Fossil Fuel More Expensive

by Chris Meehan A new report out from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) found an interesti...

Hawaii: World’s First Hydrogen Economy?

Can Hawaii become the world’s first renewable energy/hydrogen economy? Hawaii’s small size, isolation ...
energy efficiency

Beyond the Trend: Maximizing the Impact of Your Energy Efficiency Solution

A revolution is happening in the energy sector. From the new regulations pushed out earlier this summer by the EPA’s ...

Northeast States Create Cap-and-Trade Program for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Northeast states have worked together for several decades to address air quality issues and, more recently, climate c...


Sherelle is an award-winning British freelance journalist focusing on Africa. She won Best Newcomer at the 2013 Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards. Sherelle has reported from all over the African continent and previously worked as a foreign c...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Successfully Integrating Solar: A Proactive Approach

•      What does the increasing solar penetrati...

Canadian Solar Inverters Webinar

Canadian Solar is proud to be hosting two free webinars in October! The ...

JuiceBox Energy Certified Installer Class

JuiceBox Energy is rapidly building out its national certified installer...


SPI Brings Out The Best In Solar

Phew…...those cross-country flights sure take a lot out of a guy....

Connecting The Dots

One of the most important attributes of a true sales professional is the...

7 Pitfalls Of Simple Payback Period

There are many pitfalls of using Simple Payback Period (SPP) as a measur...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now