The world ended 2013 in mourning for one of the greatest leaders of the modern era: Madiba died at the age of 95. But the year also signalled new beginnings, with South Africa turning its face to the sun.

khi 2013khi 2013The death of Nelson Mandela on 5 December 2013 signalled the end of an era in South Africa. He represented our past, which included apartheid, the liberation struggle and freedom 20 years ago. But in the same year, a large part of South Africa's future was being constructed just 20 kilometres south-west of Upington in Northern Cape.

!Khi Solar One, a 140ha concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, is the latest renewable energies project being built in the country. It is a joint project of the Industrial Development Corporation and Spanish company, Abengoa Solar. It is the first CSP Abengoa is building outside Spain, and once completed, it will be one of the largest CSPs in the world.

The IDC owns 29% of the R3.9-billion project, while Abengoa is the project's biggest investor with a 51% stake. In addition, IDC is funding the !Khi Community Trust’s 20% stake in the project. The trust will invest funds generated from this investment in the surrounding communities. The project has created about 1 000 jobs during the 24-month construction phase and is expected to employ 60 fulltime workers once it is in operation.

It consists of a 205m hollow tower that is surrounded by 4 200 concave solar mirror panels. The mirrors will reflect sunlight on to the top of the tower, where a number of tubes filled with high pressure water are located. The water will boil to over 500 degrees Celsius to create enough steam to turn the turbine, thus creating electricity. It will produce 50 megawatts (MW) of electricity and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 138 000 tons each year. It will be able to store energy for up to two hours.

Unique to this particular CSP is the dry cooling system, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The tower's wall acts as a radiator by allowing air to enter through its openings, which cools the structure. Abengoa said this would reduce water consumption by two-thirds.

This project was selected as a preferred bidder under the first round of the South African Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme in December 2011.

!Khi Solar One is one element of the department's efforts to bring 1 400MW of wind and solar energy online by 2016, for which it has invested R33.8-billion. It is also a part of the government's larger strategy to generate 17 800 megawatts from renewable sources by 2030.

The plant is likely to go online in early 2015. The energy produced will be sold to Eskom, which will channel it to the national grid. The ability of the plant to store energy will enable it to supply electricity in the evenings, when energy use is at its peak.