The project's base will be in the town of Upington, which is on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape. The river traces a fertile agricultural ribbon through an area close to the Kalahari Desert.
State-owned power utility Eskom has plans to supply the necessary 400-kilovolt kV infrastructure by 2012 to provide transmission for 1,500 MW of power. The specific power additions during the phases of construction will not be confirmed until the publication of the master plan. Eskom has said that meeting all the environmental impact assessment EIA requirements could take as long as seven years. Four long transmission lines would carry the power to the national grid from the solar park.
Eskom already has applied for the EIAs, and now will have to move on approvals from landowners. But the utility has plans to build transformers by 2014 and two further 400-kV lines by 2016. The development of the first 1,500 MW will be incremental and could be reached by 2016/17, when Eskom will build two more 400-kV lines.
Upington has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the country and receives about 8.17 kilowatt-hours kWh per square meter per day. The $20 billion project is already spawning solar manufacturing projects, which will serve the solar park corridor and be available for other projects nationally.
Renewable energy company Solairedirect has plans for the production of roof-integrated solar photovoltaic PV modules. Suntech Power Holdings, China's largest maker of solar panels and the world's largest crystalline silicon PV module manufacturer, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the local Umsimbithi Holdings to develop a 100-MW solar energy plant. China's Yingli Solar is developing a 10-MW solar project in the Northern Cape, which will expand to 100 MW. By the end of 2012, Italy's Italgest Energia will be operating a PV panel factory with an initial capacity of 110 MW. Eskom will use a portion of its $3.75 billion World Bank loan to build a 100-MW concentrated-solar power plant, which will be incorporated into the Upington project.
Multiple solar technologies are now favored for the $21 billion project they include PV, concentrated PV, concentrated solar power, and variations as this would assist in the development of a solar industry in South Africa.
Fluor, which is already a central player in the project as the concept planner, will need the inside track position for the overall engineering, procurement, construction and management EPCM contract, when it comes, as the company could bring a wide range of experience of the total supply chain of renewable projects. It is currently working on solar power projects in other countries.