Northern Cape Tourist AttractionsDe Aar Solar Farm
Where? De Aar, Northern Cape, South Africa
How? Call +27 (0)21 180-4500
South Africa's biggest solar plant lies just outside of the Northern Cape town of De Aar, Known as De Aar 3, the solar power plant uses 167 580 amorphous silicon thin-film solar photovoltaics that stand in long rows on the desert farm – dubbed 'Lego land' by Pascal Phelan, the farm's owner and the man behind the building of the plant.
Not only is this the largest solar farm in the country, but it is also the largest ever completed (March 2016) in the Southern Hemisphere, Africa and the Middle East. It generates 332 000 MWh.
The Northern Cape is one of the hottest parts of the country, with some of the highest irradiation levels in the world. It is regarded as a solar 'hot bed'.
PV panels generate energy when any light falls on them. Even clouds cause indirect light, providing enough light for the panels to generate power. The amount of power generated is proportional to the amount of light that falls on the panels.
The solar farm began as a decision by farmer and entrepreneur, Pascal Phelan, to convert his game farm, near Kimberley, into a solar farm – as he explained: renewable energy in South Africa is an entrepreneur's business.
The plant went up as part of the country's REIPPPP (Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme) with foreign investment. Around 2 000 jobs were created during the construction phase, whilst 100 local employees now maintain the plant. Over R34 million will go towards economic development of the community, such as free Wi-Fi for the town, and a large community training centre.
The REIPPPP has been a hugely successful venture on the part of government in driving the country's investment in renewable energy.
By comparison, the government's dogged pursuit of nuclear - to install a power plant takes between 12 and 15 years, usually with an overspend on budget - is predicted to reach obsolescence. By the time it comes on line, the cost of power production will be too high.
Solar and wind power, by comparison, already produce power at a lower cost.