Investing in a South African solar project
As we search for investments that can help speed up the adoption of renewable energy, we’ve been looking beyond the U.S. and Europe to parts of the world where our investments can have an even greater impact. We’ve just closed our first investment in Africa: $12 million USD (103 million Rand) investment in the Jasper Power Project, a 96 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Upon completion, Jasper will be one of the largest solar installations on the continent, capable of generating enough electricity to power 30,000 South African homes. The project, developed and funded by SolarReserve, Intikon Energy and the Kensani Group, is also backed by Rand Merchant Bank, the Public Investment Corporation, Development Bank of South Africa and the PEACE Humansrus Trust.
When we consider investing in a renewable energy project, we focus on two key factors. First, we only pursue investments that we believe make financial sense. South Africa’s strong resources and supportive policies for renewable energy make it an attractive place to invest—which is why it had the highest growth in clean energy investment in the world last year. Second, we look for projects that have transformative potential—that is, projects that will bolster the growth of the renewable energy industry and move the world closer to a clean energy future. The Jasper Power Project is one of those transformative opportunities. To explain why, perhaps some background would be helpful.
Back in 2008, South Africa experienced a severe energy shortage, which resulted in blackouts throughout the country and slowed down economic growth. Since then the South African government has been actively supporting the growth of new sources of electricity to power the nation. While today South Africa is primarily dependent on fossil fuels, there’s lots of potential for renewable energy—it’s a country blessed with abundant wind and solar resources—and the government has set an ambitious goal of generating 18 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030 (as a comparison, the entire South African grid is currently 44 GW).
To meet this goal, the South African government has established the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP). Through the program, renewable energy projects compete on the basis of cost and contribution to the local economy to be awarded a contract with Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned energy utility. Jasper and the other projects being developed through the REIPPPP have the potential to transform the South African energy grid. And given South Africa’s position as an economic powerhouse in Africa, a greener grid in South Africa can set an example for the whole continent.
Just as compelling are the economic and social benefits that the project will bring to the local community. Jasper will create approximately 300 construction and 50 permanent jobs in a region experiencing high rates of unemployment, as well as providing rural development and education programs and setting aside a portion of total project revenues—amounting to approximately $26 million over the life of the project—for enterprise and socio-economic development. We appreciate how forward-thinking the South African government has been in designing the REIPPPP to encourage these kinds of local economic benefits.
Google has committed more than $1 billion to renewable energy investments and we continue to search for new opportunities. Our search has brought us from the U.S. to Europe and now to Africa. We’re excited to see where else it might lead.