US and South Africa race to deliver world's largest solar farms

The US and South Africa this week have each moved a step closer to building
two giant new solar farms, both of which will lay a claim to being the world’s
largest and could serve to establish the countries as solar technology hubs.

The US looks set to secure the title first after the Department of the
Interior yesterday gave final approval to a proposed 1GW solar project planned
for Blythe, California.

The giant project is backed by German solar firm Solar Millennium and is
expected to cover 7,000 acres, ultimately providing energy for up to 750,000

US secretary of the interior Ken Salazar hailed the project as a "major
milestone" in the development of America’s renewable energy economy, adding that
it provided further evidence that the US government will support the emerging
low-carbon sector.

The company is still in talks with the US Department of Energy in an attempt
to secure $1.9bn (£1.19m) in federal loan guarantees, but it said that it was
confident that the project would begin before the end of the year.

The project, which will use giant parabolic troughs to concentrate the sun’s
heat on a fluid tube that will be used to create steam that drives a turbine,
will be rolled out in four phases with each unit generating up to 250MW of

The planning approval represents the latest in a
of green lights
for large solar farms in southern California. For example,
construction is scheduled to begin on Wednesday at another recently approved
major project, Brightsource’s high-profile
solar farm

However, Blythe’s status as the world’s largest solar farm could prove short
lived if ambitious plans to be unveiled in South Africa later this week are

According to reports in the Guardian, the country’s government will
this week unveil plans for a £18.4bn project that would ultimately generate up
to 5GW of electricity, meeting up to 10 per cent of South Africa’s current
energy needs.

Up to 200 potential investors are expected top meet this week to hear about
the plans, which would see a string of solar plants cover a 9,000 hectare area
in the Northern Cape, a region with some of the highest levels of solar energy
in the world.

The plan will be presented by US engineering giant Fluor and is backed by a
viability study from the Clinton Climate Initiative. Experts predicted that the
work on the initial 1GW facility could get under way as early as 2012 with the
entire solar farm completed by 2020.

Jonathan de Vries, the project manager, told the Guardian that the
development would represent the largest solar park in the world, adding that the
Northern Cape provided the perfect location for the project. "It hardly ever
rains, it hardly has clouds," he said. "It’s even better than the Sahara desert
because it doesn’t have sandstorms."

In related news, another ambitious African renewable energy project delivered
an encouraging update this week when Kenya’s government-backed Geothermal
Development Company (GDC) announced that it has secured 40 per cent of the money
it requires to build a pioneering 2GW geothermal power plant in the Rift Valley.

GDC managing director Silas Simiyu told news agency Reuters that the
company had already raised $400m, and was moving forward with plans to deliver
500MW of geothermal energy by the end of 2012 and 1GW by 2015.

"There is a lot of excitement in terms of the support that we are getting
from outside," he said. "When we came up with our business plan and we talked of
5,000MW by 2030, it was thought that the plan was very ambitious."

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