Cape Town – An Irishman’s passion for job creation and solving South Africa’s energy restrictions with green technology resulted in the development of the largest solar farm in Africa. It launches this month.
Phelan Energy Group’s Pascal Phelan told Fin24 how he decided to transform his game farm near Kimberley into a solar farm to generate 175MW electricity. It will light up 175 000 households.
“I call the solar photovoltaic business Lego land,” he said. “If you can work out how to make a megawatt, you simply plug another set of metawatts together and the sky is the limit in terms of volume.”
Phelan has invested R4bn into the project near the small town of De Aar in the Northern Cape, creating 2 000 jobs during the construction phase and 50 full time employees to run the solar farm.
Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson singled out the project in her debate on the state of the nation this year, where she will open it officially on 17 March in De Aar.
This forms part of her successful independent power producers programme, which has seen R194bn invested in South Africa.
“The big, old electrical utilities have all failed at it (keeping up with energy sector) because they’re not nimble enough,” said Phelan. “It’s an entrepreneurs business and you have to be quick and fast on your feet, focus on low costs, focus on efficiency and don’t spend so much time thinking about it.
“Everybody likes to criticise the politicians, but this is a programme that South Africans can be absolutely proud of,” he said.
“It’s taken vision and dedication of a minister to drive forward, because nothing happens unless someone drives it forward.
“It’s not just solar energy,” he said. “There are programmes built into that that forces people like us to do social economic development locally, to run programmes. And those have been as successful in many ways as the solar energy generation.”
Phelan said the solar farm has transformed the economy of De Aar. “When we arrived, there were bushes blowing through the streets. It was really non-operational as an economic entity. Now it’s becoming a vibrant town.”
WATCH: Don’t miss this engaging interview with Phelan Energy Group’s Pascal Phelan