Google just made a $12 million investment in a 96MW solar farm in South Africa, an announcement that shows once again that the country is an important emerging market for renewable energy.
The search giant is putting money in a $260 million project that is co-developed by California-based SolarReserve and South African firms Intikon Energy and Kensani Group. They will sell the electricity, produced from solar panels, to the state-owned utility Eskom.
As Google noted in its blog post today about the investment, South African has emerged as a hot bed of renewable energy development because it needed to boost its power supply, reduce the number of blackouts and minimize the economic losses that come with energy shortage.
Solar and wind companies have talked about the market potential of South Africa for several years now. The World Bank has signed off on loans for building renewable energy projects, including a $250 million package approved in 2011 to enable Eskom to build a 100MW solar power plant and a 100MW wind power plant.
Solar panel makers such as Hanwha and Suntech Power have announced supply agreements for projects in South Africa. First Solar hired a business development director for sub-Saharan Africa last year. Last November, SunEdison said it had closed $314 million in funding for two solar power projects totaling 58MW in the country. Yingli Green Energy became a sponsor of the 2010 World Cup when it took place in South Africa.
As I noted in this story about South Africa last December, Sub-Saharan Africa has a far lower electrification rate than North Africa, 30.5 percent versus 99 percent, according to the International Energy Agency.