Published: 11:21, June 14, 2024
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Chinese tech to light up homes in South Africa
By Wang Xiaodong in Cape Town, South Afric

Renewable energy plant nearly ready, will help ease acute power shortage

An aerial view of the construction site of the Redstone Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Project near Postmasburg in Northern Cape Province of South Africa. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In the vast, semiarid region near Postmasburg, in South Africa's Northern Cape Province, construction of one of the country's biggest renewable energy power plants is nearing completion.

The Redstone Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Project is expected to begin trial operations soon, eventually generating enough energy to power 200,000 households in South Africa, and thereby greatly alleviating the country's acute power shortage.

Energy has been a major area of cooperation between China and South Africa over the past years. During President Xi Jinping's visit to South Africa in August, in the presence of Xi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the two countries signed a number of cooperation deals in Pretoria, including agreements on emergency power, investment in renewable energy and the upgrade of South Africa's power grids.

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Since Xi's visit, work on the Redstone power plant has accelerated, with the steam generation system and solar receiving system already completed. Trial operations are expected to start this month, and full operation is scheduled before the end of the year, said Xie Yanjun, deputy director and chief engineer of the project, which is being built by SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Co, a subsidiary of PowerChina.

Gloria Kgoronyane, a resident of Jroenwatel village, which is located near the project site, said she is eagerly waiting for the Redstone plant to begin operations, and hopes that more power plants can be built to ease the severe power shortage, which has adversely affected her life over the past few years.

"Load shedding has become more frequent since 2022, and nowadays in my village, every day we experience between two and four hours of power cuts," she said. "We cannot watch TV, and sometimes the meat in the fridge rots due to load shedding, so I have to throw it out."

"The power plant uses solar thermal, a very clean source of energy, to generate electricity, which conforms with South Africa's environmental protection strategy," Xie said. "While contributing to reduced carbon emissions, it will also significantly ease the power shortage in South Africa."

South Africa, which relies on coal to meet around 80 percent of its power needs, has been facing a severe power shortage in recent years that has been caused by aging coal-powered plants, outdated power grids and a lack of alternative energy sources. Frequent load shedding — the distribution of demand for electrical power across multiple power sources — is common across the country.

The nation has vowed to gradually phase out coal-powered plants and seek renewable energy as a major means to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

During Xi's visit last year, which was his fourth state visit to South Africa as China's president, he stressed intensifying bilateral cooperation in various areas, including energy, for mutual benefits. As the first African country to join the Belt and Road Initiative, South Africa signed a new agreement with China during the visit to enhance cooperation under the initiative.

Nandu Bhula, CEO of the Redstone project, said South Africa-China cooperation in energy under the BRI, which was proposed by President Xi in 2013, has strengthened over the past few years and benefited both sides.

"The vision of President Xi (regarding the BRI) is a good one, as it supports all countries in development and infrastructure improvement," he said. "I think it's important to have collaborations with countries such as China that can provide expertise in areas where a country is desperately needy."

Regarding the Redstone project, Bhula said that by cooperating with PowerChina, using cutting-edge technologies to build the power plant, South Africa will improve its ability to build similar renewable energy projects on its own in the future.

"I think the expertise they bring in terms of concentrated solar power is fantastic. It's a huge learning process for us," he said. "With leading-edge technology, the Redstone project is actually revolutionary. It can provide 12 hours of energy storage, which means it can run for 24 hours, seven days a week, if need be."

Bryce Muller, a quality control engineer for the Redstone project who used to work for coal-powered plants in South Africa, said he hopes such major renewable energy projects will also reduce load shedding in the country.

Xie, the project's chief engineer, said that with the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, he believes more renewable energy projects will be constructed in South Africa and other countries to meet the increasing demand for power and decarbonization efforts.

In addition to renewable energy, China-Africa cooperation has extended to a wide range of areas, including industrial parks and vocational training, to support the industrialization and modernization of the continent.

During his meeting with Ramaphosa in Pretoria in August, Xi said China is willing to make use of various cooperation platforms, such as the China-South Africa Vocational Training Alliance, to intensify bilateral cooperation in vocational training, promote exchanges and cooperation in youth employment, and help South Africa cultivate badly needed talent for economic and social development.

During the meeting, the two presidents also witnessed the signing of cooperation agreements for developing industrial parks and higher education. On Aug 24, during a China-Africa leaders' dialogue co-hosted by President Xi and President Ramaphosa in Johannesburg, Xi said China has been firmly supporting Africa's modernization efforts, and he proposed launching initiatives to support Africa's industrialization and agricultural modernization.

In Atlantis, a town about 50 kilometers north of Cape Town, an industrial park set up more than 10 years ago has transformed the once sleepy town into a major manufacturing base for household electrical appliances. This has created thousands of job opportunities for locals and injected new impetus into industrialization of the country.

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Hisense South Africa Industrial Park, invested in by Chinese appliance and electronics manufacturer Hisense Appliance and the China-Africa Development Fund, was established in 2013. A decade later, the industrial park produces enough television sets and refrigerators to meet nearly a third of South Africa's domestic demand, and it exports to countries across Africa and to the United Kingdom.

Jiang Shun, general manager of the industrial park, said that over the past 10 years, the manufacturing base has not only produced high-quality and affordable electrical appliances to meet local demand, but has also cultivated skilled talent, thereby promoting industrial development in Atlantis.

Ivan Hendricks, an engineer at the industrial park's refrigerator factory, said that "made in South Africa" has also promoted the transfer of technology to locals, and this could result in domestic brands being created.

Bhula, the CEO of the Redstone project, said: "China is a very strong partner of South Africa, and the future of South Africa is going to be linked to benefits from cooperation with China. I can only see improvements going forward."