Google has made its first renewable energy deal in Africa with a $12 million investment in one of the many new solar power projects being built in South Africa.
The investment will help create jobs for local South Africans in the Western Cape area and lessen the country’s dependence on coal, according to a report in the Financial Times.
The investment underscores how attractive Africa’s biggest economy has become to foreign investors as the country seeks to build renewable energy and reduce its dependence on coal. Renewables attracted $5 billion in investment in 2012, up from just a few tens of millions in 2011, according to the Financial Times.
By Google standards, the South African deal is a small one. Google invested $1 billion in renewable energy in recent years including $200 million in a West Texas wind farm about six months ago, the report says.
But it’s significant for South Africa’s renewable energy program, and hopefully, will lead to more by other “solid” investors, said Ompi Aphane, a deputy director general at South Africa’s energy department.
“You have the confidence that those kind of brand-conscious companies are not going do a quick and nasty,” he said in an interview in the Financial Times.
South Africa is heavily dependent on coal, a sector crippled by investment and one that has left the country vulnerable to crippling blackouts, the report says.
The government hopes to generate 18 gigawatts of energy by 2030. Its current installed capacity is 44 gigawatts.
The 96 megawatt Jasper solar photovoltaic plant in South Africa’s Northern Cape province aims generate enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.
This makes South Africa attractive to investors seeking a stable environment, said Rick Needham, director of energy and sustainability at Google, in the Financial Times report. “There’s a clear need for more power in South Africa,” he said.
Google only invests in renewables projects where it can be assured a reasonable return and not necessarily for its own energy-hungry data centers, the report says. Rather, it hopes to help spur more deployment and growth in the sector generally so eventually all users are buying more renewable power, Needham said.
“In the meantime, we can make some returns on our investments, so it’s a win-win,” he said.
The $260m Jasper project is being developed by several entities including SolarReserve, Intikon Energy, the Kensani Group and Rand Merchant Bank.
It’s one of many projects in South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program, which gives developers the right to build wind and solar plants provided they hire local workers and fulfill other obligations.
The Jasper solar plant is expected to create about 300 construction jobs and about 50 permanent jobs, according to the the Financial Times.