Laying claim to “what will be the world’s largest solar power plant” is difficult these days with so many in development, but the Texas-based Fluor corporation is drawing up plans for a five gigawatt (GW) plant in South Africa that would certainly make it amongst the world’s largest. Following a feasibility study, the company has been selected to draw up plans for a potential solar park to be built on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa – an area the South African government says is amongst the sunniest three percent of regions in the world.

Currently, the world’s largest operational solar power plant is the 80MW Sarnia Solar Project completed last month in Canada. No sooner had it commenced operation than a 1GW plant known as the Blythe Solar Power Project received approval to be built in California. The U.S. plant is expected to take six years to complete and won't generate as much power as the proposed 2GW plant planned for China, but the South African government hopes its Solar Park will be generating 1GW as early as 2012 and a total of 5GW by 2020.

Last week more than 400 potential investors and solar energy experts gathered at the two-day Solar Park Investors Conference held in the small town of Upington where the park is to be built to learn more about the project. The site is seen as ideal for a solar park as it hardly ever rains, rarely has clouds, and doesn’t have sandstorms. The park carries an estimated price tag of 150 billion Rand (approx. US$22 billion), most of which would be provided by private investors.

The park proposed by Fluor would be built over a ten-year period and make use of various solar technologies, possibly including photovoltaic, concentrated photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies such as power tower and parabolic trough solutions.

With the project, the South African government is looking to kick-start cleaner energy solutions to allow the country to meet its international obligations on climate change. Definitely a move in the right direction for a country that currently derives over 90 percent of its annual 45–48GW of power generated each year from coal fired power plants.