George, in the Western Cape is now home to South Africa and Africa’s first solar powered airport.

South African Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters officially opened solar powered George Airport Solar Plant on Friday.

In her address, Peters acknowledged that the 200 square metres solar plant, which cost a reported R16 million to build, “admirably demonstrates the South African government’s commitment to clean energy generation and sustainability, as well as to our country’s increasingly prominent role when it comes to global climate change issues.”

The solar plant, which is designated to provide the airport with 750 megawatts (MW) of its total electricity need, Peters noted, is expected to “save in excess of 1,2 million liters of water per year.”

This water saving feature she said, was important to take into account given that South Africa is experiencing its worst drought in over two decades.

The plant has “substantial magnitude and importance for sustainable socio-economic and environmental development,” she said, and forms part of the country’s Independent Power Producers Programme that aims to contribute 3,725 MW of energy into the economy.

The plant, Peters noted, would do much to grow South Africa’s renewable energy sector.

She reminded delegates present at the opening that President Jacob Zuma, in his State of the Nation Address, had indicated that “the renewables sector attracted R192,6 billion in investment, contributed more than 109,000 construction jobs and cut the equivalent of 4,4 million tons of carbon dioxide in the country”.

She said that the solar powered airport was among several projects within the integrated resource plan of the National Development Plan, which were set in motion and being “implemented rigorously to improve the lives of ordinary South Africans”.

Peters said the plant was also “in keeping with a multitude of local and international obligations that the Republic of South Africa has committed to in relation to sustainable development”.

These commitments include the United Nation’s (UN) global aim of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL),the African Union’s Agenda (AU) 2063 in relation to its first aspiration to ensure “a Prosperous Africa Based on Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development”, South Africa’s commitment to resolving its own energy challenges and the Conference of Parties Paris resolution to keep global greenhouse gas emissions below the two degrees Celsius threshold.

Looking at the global renewable energy sector and South Africa’s capacity to drive this sector within the continent and provide innovative solutions, Peters highlighted how “the global power generation is comprised of approximately 22% renewable energy.”

Peters acknowledged Morocco’s Concentrated Solar Power Plant, which went live on February 9 and would provide electricity to over 1,1 million people and cut carbon emissions by 760,000 tons a year, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Great Inga Dam Project which aims to become the world’s largest HydroPower scheme and could power over a third of the continent’s electricity.

Speaking about these two projects, Peters said these projects pointed to “Africa’s prowess and capacity with regard to generating clean energy.”

“Clearly, Africa as a continent, has so much to offer in the renewable energy space and as the best natural resource endowed continent on the planet, we cannot afford to allow the clean energy revolution to transpire in our absence, as it so tragically happened with the industrial revolution.”

She said that the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) should be congratulated on their efforts to drive the use of renewable energy within the aviation sector, which reduces the country’s global emission footprint.

Peters said this forward thinking in the industry was “a harbinger of ACSA’s success and future plans in relation to transforming the South African aviation sector into global leader and pioneer”.

Peters noted that the solar powered George airport would pave the way for similar models to be implemented at five other regional airports in the country, which include; Port Elizabeth International Airport, East London Airport, Bram Fischer International Airport, Kimberley Airport and Upington Airport.