An exploratory study of the South African concentrated solar power sector using the technological innovation systems framework

07 Jun 2021

Wide-scale deployment of variable renewable energy (wind and solar photovoltaic) is constrained by its associated requirements for energy storage, the technologies for which are currently too expensive to be routinely used. Concentrated solar power (CSP), with its inherent storage capacity, offers semi-dispatchable electricity at large scale. However, its deployment to date has been restricted by high capital costs and the limited geographical locations with optimal solar radiation to attain required efficiencies. South Africa, with its abundant solar resources, has the potential to develop an export-competitive CSP industry by leveraging existing capabilities in innovation, manufacturing and construction, but has yet to attain this goal. This study applied a qualitative, exploratory approach and the framework of technological innovation systems (TIS) to understand the factors that are currently prohibiting the country from being a global leader in CSP. The assessment has revealed the presence of largely immature TIS, characterised by a heavy reliance on imported technology and market support from the state-supported procurement programme. The advancement of CSP remains contingent on further allocation of CSP procurement targets in this programme and sufficient support to develop entrepreneurial activity. An integrated industrial policy strategy, which can ensure technology transfer and address the high cost of CSP, is recommended as a means of addressing the barriers to its development as a competitive industry.