Solar Farms in South Africa
The growth of Solar Farms in South Africa has been very rapid. There are now over 15 major solar power projects that are connected to the National Grid and hundreds more independent power producers.
When we consider the effect of the debilitating loadshedding schedule on our economy – the prospect of an alternative power source could be a start to solving our problems. Solar Farms could play an important role in South Africa’s expanding electricity demands especially with our abundance of sunshine!
The Impacts of Solar Farms in South Africa
So what are the possible impacts of huge Solar Power Plants apart from the generation of clean, sustainable electricity for South Africa?
Positive Impacts of Solar Farms
Solar farms could have several positive impacts on communities, such as job creation and boosting economic activity.
Potential Negative Impacts of Solar Farms
However, there are also some potential negative impacts, such as changes in property values, degradation of the local environment and the loss of agricultural land.
Some of the main impacts both positive and negative are discussed below.
Solar Farms and the Impact on Property Values.
Many studies have been done in the United States on the impact of Solar Farms on property values. In one study 1.8 million home sales near solar farms were analysed. In some states, there was a drop in the average property value of about 5% but in others, the changes in property value was considered insignificant. The consensus was that the change in property values was very complex and dependent on many factors including the size and location of the solar farm, the quality of the surrounding environment, inflation, and the demographics of the local community. To isolate just one factor such as proximity to a Solar Farm and ascertain the effect of that one factor would need much more research. An additional factor that needs to be considered is the effect of an increase in local controversy surrounding a Solar project that could lead to larger decreases in property values.
Impact on job creation and economic activity.
Situated in Dibeng Northern Cape the Sishen Photovoltacic plant has a forecast annual generation of 216 GWh. This makes it Africa’s highest-producing Solar Farm. During construction of this Solar Farm generated millions of man-hours and more than 3,700 man/days/month with 94% of construction workers from South Africa.
A second project, Solar Capital De Aar Project, is situated 6km outside the town of De Aar also in the Northern Cape. During construction several the local community were offering employment opportunities. In addition, many indirect jobs were created or sustained at local manufactures and supplies through the project and its contractor’s procurement of goods and services. What De Aar residents have found, however, was that job opportunities in the region have increased, as has economic activity – but not necessarily due to the construction, which did create only temporary jobs. A small number of people were provided with long-term employment in the operation and maintenance of the plant. So, it would seem that whilst a Solar Farm is being constructed the local communities benefit in terms of local job opportunities. However, once the plant is up and running these opportunities are not sustained.
Impact for investing in socio-economic development.
Longer-term benefits for the local communities are exhibited in some of the larger Solar Plants. These power plants put aside a percentage of total project income to support enterprise development and socio-economic development. These community trusts invest in scholarships for students to qualify as technicians who will run the green power projects of the future.
Impact – protection of the local environment.
New Southern Energy (NSE), a South African renewable energy company, has built Africa’s first floating solar farm near Franschhoek, in the Western Cape. The facility creates 60 KW of clean energy and reduces evaporation from the nearby dam, allowing more area to be used for cultivation. This technology decreases the Solar farm’s reliance on the electricity grid by providing clean, affordable energy while also minimizing evaporation and conserving water. As a result, the company will save money in the long run, resulting in a business that is not just ecologically sustainable, but also financially sustainable. This research examined some of the most pressing sustainability concerns in agriculture and the economy today and attempted to identify answers.
Kathu Solar Park is located in the town of Kathu in the Northern Cape Province. With a capacity of 100MW the project supplies enough power to support 179 000 SA homes. The plant’s construction began in May 2016 and it entered commercial operation in January 2019, with a 30-year operational life. The park is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by six million tons over the next 20 years. In addition, it has introduced a program to protect endangered and vulnerable plant species. A total of 3,345 plants were moved to another location as part of the initiative of protecting the local environment.
It is estimated that if the existing Solar Farms were included in the National Grid in a sustainable way solar generated power would be able to meet almost 40% of the country’s energy needs. Currently coal is by far the major energy source for South Africa’s electricity, supplying around 80% of the country’s energy. Nuclear power production is only about 3%. So, the need for alternative energy generation is vital. It is also clear that the impact of solar farms on communities is complex with many benefits and drawbacks. However, with further studies these drawbacks could be minimised.