As South Africa works to crank up its renewable power capacity, the U.S. is loaning the nation $2 billion to help it build wind, solar and thermal projects—and to make sure American companies get contracts for the projects.

The 18-year loans will come from the U.S. Export-Import bank, which promotes U.S. export sales. Officials from the two countries were scheduled to sign a formal agreement for the loans today during a visit to South Africa by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

South Africa’s economic growth has been hurt by the public utility’s difficulty meeting electricity demands. The country considers increasing power production vital to its economy. As part of that goal, it has aggressive plans to add new renewable energy projects. The country plans to develop 6,000 MW of commercial wind and solar projects by 2020 and 17,800 MW by 2030.

South Africa is well known for its sunny skies. According to one analysis, it also has strong wind resources—potentially on par with China, the world leader in wind energy.

Last year, the South African public utility received a $3.75 billion World Bank loan to expand its power grid. Of that money, $260 million was earmarked for utility-scale wind and solar power. Kansas-based Black & Veatch is working on those projects, including a 100 MW wind farm in the Western Cape Province and a 100 MW concentrated solar power facility in the Northern Cape Province.

The new U.S. loans could help fund photovoltaic, concentrated solar and wind projects by General Electric Co., SolarReserve LLC and Siemens AG. Outside of the renewable energy field, the U.S. is pushing for other business relationships with South Africa. Fred Hochberg, president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank told the Associated Press that Boeing Co. is in the running to provide aircraft to South African Airways.

Photo credit: Klipheuwel wind farm in South Africa. Image credit: warrenski/Flickr