Agence France-Presse, July 28, 2022
Most of South Africa is battling endless power cuts, but a remote whites-only farming town in the country’s sun-drenched centre is close to producing enough electricity to be self-sufficient.
Built after the end of apartheid along the Orange River on 8,000 hectares (more than 19,000 acres) of land acquired by white Afrikaner nationalists, Orania manages its affairs autonomously from the central government.
In a country struggling to provide basic services, the small settlement of 2,500 people is the only town nationwide close to reaching energy supply autonomy and freeing itself from the failing national power grid.
“The solar farm is quite a huge game changer for us. It brings energy sustainability to the town,” said Gawie Snyman, 43, who manages the municipality.
“Our big dream is to become an energy exporter”.
Africa’s most developed economy has in recent years been plagued by epileptic power supply, which many blame on the ageing coal-fired plants operated by the state-owned energy giant Eskom.
After weeks of some of the worst blackouts in recent years, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announced energy reforms, urging South Africans to “join in a massive rollout of rooftop solar” and sell excess to the grid.
With funding from the municipality and private investors, Orania started building its 10.5-million-rand ($620,000) solar farm in June last year.
Just 12 months later, the town was generating 841 KW of electricity per hour — almost enough to power half the town and surrounding farms growing corn, wheat and nuts, local authorities say.
“It was the basic idea of self-sufficiency that drove us towards doing this,” said Francois Joubert, the engineer who designed what has become known as the “Orasol” plant.
Standing next to a row of solar panels, the 69-year-old in a grey flat cap said Eskom had “failed dismally” to provide the town with the necessary power.
“We had to do that ourselves, we had to work it out… And it’s working for us.”