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China Daily Global / 2024-05 / 20 / Page001

Chinese tech to light up homes in South Africa

By WANG XIAODONG in Cape Town, South Africa | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-20 00:00

Renewable energy plant nearly ready, to help ease power shortage in 200,000 households

In the vast semi-arid area near Postmasburg, in South Africa's Northern Cape Province, construction of one of the country's biggest renewable energy power plants is nearing completion. In about a month's time, the Redstone Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Project is expected to start trial operations, eventually generating enough energy to power 200,000 households in South Africa, thereby greatly alleviating the acute power shortage in the country.

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 the administrative capital Pretoria, including those on emergency power, investment in renewable energy and upgrade of South Africa's power grids.

Since Xi's visit, work on the Redstone power plant has accelerated, with the steam generation system and solar receiving system using solar-heated salt already completed. Trial operations are expected to start in June, and full operation before the end of the year, said Xie Yanjun, deputy director and chief engineer of the project, which is being built by SEPCOIII, a subsidiary of Power China.

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

South Africa, which relies on coal to meet around 80 percent of its power needs, has been facing severe power shortage in recent years, caused by aging coal-powered plants, outdated power grids and lack of alternative energy sources. Frequent load shedding is common across the country. The country has vowed to gradually phase out coal power plants and seek renewable energy as a major means to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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

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

"The vision of President Xi (regarding 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 Power China, 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 at 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.

Gloria Kgoronyane, a resident of Jroenwatel village located near the project site, said she is eagerly waiting for the Redstone power plant to begin operations, and hopes 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."

Xie, the chief engineer of the project, said 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 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 industrialization and modernization of the continent.

During Xi's meeting with Ramaphosa in Pretoria in August, Xi said China is willing to make use of various existing 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 talents for economic and social development.

During the meeting, the two presidents also witnessed the signing of cooperation agreements in developing industrial parks and higher education. On Aug 24 in Johannesburg, during a China-Africa Leaders' dialogue co-hosted by President Xi and President Ramaphosa, Xi said China has been firmly supporting Africa's modernization efforts, and proposed to launch 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 this once sleepy town into a major manufacturing base for household electrical appliances in South Africa, creating thousands of job opportunities for locals and injecting new imputes to industrialization of the country.

Hisense South Africa Industrial Park, invested by Chinese appliance and electronics manufacturer Hisense Appliance and China-Africa Development Fund, was established in 2013, the year the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Xi. A decade later, the industrial park produces enough television sets and refrigerators to meet nearly a third of South Africa's domestic demand, and 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, it has also cultivated a number of skilled talents that promoted industrial development in Atlantis.

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

"I know quite a few who previously worked at the factory have started their own business such as fixing television or fridges using the skills they learnt here," Hendricks said. "I hope we could have local production for local brands soon."

Allister Lightburn, a council member of Atlantis, said China and South Africa have maintained close relations ever since the times of apartheid and supported each other. Following President Xi's visit last year, intensified collaboration is expected between the two countries, including on vocational training and talent cultivation as discussed between Xi and Ramaphosa in Pretoria.

Lightburn said the Chinese Embassy in Johannesburg has of late been in touch with officials in Cape Town and discussions are underway to develop vocational training for locals. Some young people in Atlantis may also be selected for internships and other training programs sponsored by China, he said.

Regarding the proposal by President Xi to build a community with a shared future, Lightburn said the vision is widely accepted in South Africa.

"I think we all would like to thrive and be better…there is a way where we can model and learn from one another," Lightburn said. "I think if we have that amount of empathy and courage, it will make the world more powerful, and also more positive."

"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," Bhula, CEO of the Redstone project, said. "I can only see improvements going forward."


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