Lesotho is a fascinating country. It’s entirely engulfed by South Africa (see map). It’s perched on top of, and entirely surrounded by, the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, which is why it’s often referred to as the ‘Mountain Kingdom.’ It’s the country with the highest lowest point (think about that one for a second) and it has the world’s highest lightning strike rate.
And, as it turns out, it is also very windy, which is an attribute that will be exploited by the development of the Lesotho Highlands Power Project (LHPP), Africa’s largest proposed renewable energy project to date. The LHPP is a joint venture between the government of Lesotho and Harrison & White Investments, a South African company with a Chinese technology partner in Minyang Wind Power.
On completion, the project is expected to provide as much as 6,000 megawatts of installed wind power integrated with some 4,000 megawatts of pumped-storage hydroelectricity. These two renewable energy technologies dovetail perfectly: wind energy produced at times when there is no demand can be used to pump water into storage reservoirs, which in turn can drive hydro-power turbines whenever electricity is needed but the wind doesn’t blow. Lesotho, with its strong winds and mountainous topography, is the perfect place for this green power combination.
Over a period of 10 to 15 years, thousands of wind turbines will be constructed and erected. Construction of the first phase, a 150 megawatt wind farm, is scheduled to begin early next year and expected to be commissioned just 12 months later. The costs for the entire project are estimated at $15-20 billion.
The LHPP doesn’t only involve electricity generation, but also the establishment of a wind turbine manufacturing industry in South Africa and Lesotho. Factories producing components such as wind turbine blades, nacelle housings, tower sections and hub covers will be established in both countries.
Promising an estimated 25,000 new jobs as well as eco-friendly energy, the LHPP represents a major boost for both economically impoverished Lesotho and its electricity-hungry South African neighbour. It’s also a great example of the enormous potential for regional cooperative renewable energy generation in the whole of Southern Africa.
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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