Amazon is going to make its own electricity in SA, then run it across Eskom’s grid

Business Insider SA
Electricity pylons at sunset
  • Amazon is adding South Africa to the countries where it generates its own electricity to run its power-hungry data centres.
  • Its new solar plant in the Northern Cape is due to start construction next year.
  • Once that facility is ready, the electricity will be transmitted over Eskom's grid to wherever Amazon needs it.
  • The plan is part of a global effort by Amazon to go green on its power use – but was announced just as SA faced a high likelihood of load shedding again.
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South Africa will soon be one of the countries where online behemoth Amazon generates its own electricity from "utility scale" solar and wind plants – and then it will use Eskom's power lines to get that power where it is needed.

Amazon announced 26 such projects on Thursday, adding France, Germany, Italy, and South Africa to the list of countries where it will generate power to feed its large data centres, which support both its own services and those of many other companies. It has promised to be a "net-zero carbon" entity by 2040, and says the new projects will make it the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy on the planet.

At its present trajectory, 100% of Amazon's business will be running on renewable energy by 2025, CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

Amazon has been adding data centres in South Africa, and recently made it available as a "region" for data storage and processing, implying that its capacity will grow as does demand for such services in South Africa and nearby countries.

Though Amazon itself provided no details, Business Day reported that the power Amazon intends to generate in SA will come from a solar project in the Northern Cape, due to start construction in 2021. From there the power will be wheeled across the Eskom grid to where it is needed.

Such transmission using Eskom's power lines is possible – mostly in a theoretical fashion – for other users. The Amazon project could "truly modernised electricity market in which consumers can procure cleaner energy through state-owned grid lines while paying for their upkeep in the process", Chris Haw, executive director of the Sola Group, which is due to develop the project, told Business Day journalist Lisa Steyn.

Amazon says it has 68 solar rooftops at various fulfilment and sort centres around the world, plus 59 utility-scale solar and wind projects.

The announcement of Amazon's project in South Africa came on the same day Eskom warned of a "a high probability of loadshedding" thanks to unexpected outages at a number of its – mostly coal-fired – power stations.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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