Google’s Renewable Energy Quest Finds Africa

For the first time, Google is investing in a renewable energy project in Africa, a 96-megawatt (DC) solar photovoltaic power plant in South Africa that will become one of the continent’s largest solar installations. The opportunity comes courtesy South Africa’s unfolding plan to build a strong, stable power grid with a whole heck of a lot of renewable energy on it.

This Jasper PV project is an undertaking of SolarReserve, a company you might know best for the Crescent Dunes power tower plant in Nevada that’s nearing completion. Google said it is putting $12 million into the multi-partner South Africa project.

south africa solar power google

This is what Jasper will look like, Google said (image via Google)

This is one of three South Africa PV projects that SolarReserve and its partners aim to bring online this year, totaling 238 MW in generating capacity. South Africa has handed out more than a gigawatt worth of renewable energy contracts as the country, whose fossil-fuel powered grid has at times been inadequate to the task in the past decade, works toward a 2030 goal of 17.8 GW of renewables. (A power tower is among the projects under development in South Africa, but it’s by Abengoa.)

Google has a long list of energy investments in the U.S. – from the giant Shepherds Flat wind farm in Oregon to the Ivanpah solar thermal project in the Mojave Desert – and in Europe. In explaining the South Africa move, Google said it fulfilled its goal of finding a project that makes financial sense and represents a “transformative” opportunity.

In this case, Jasper can help transform the South African 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,” Google said.

SolarReserve said the Google investment helped compete a $260 million financing of the Jasper project. ““The South Africa government’s advanced energy projects are allowing the country to quickly become a model for not only the rest of the continent, but for the world,” CEO Kevin Smith said in a statement [PDF].

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.