Green revolution starts to take root
LIONEL FAULL | JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Oct 20 2010 10:02
A massive green rush is under way in South Africa, with major energy,
construction and finance companies setting up specialised renewable
energy units in anticipation of the government finalising the rules of
engagement at the end of the year.
The government has set a target of 4%, or 1 025MW, of renewable energy
installed from private sector suppliers by 20 13, up from less than
0,1% at present.
Although the renewable target is dwarfed by government's planned 48
000MW Medupi coal-fired power station, it represents the first stage
in the country's long-term drive to increase its energy production
while reducing its carbon emissions.
"A lot of companies are positioning themselves, but don't want to
overplay their hand," said Richard Worthington, the climate change
programme manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF
For example, Sasol, the liquid fuels and chemical producing giant, has
set up a new energy unit, allocating R200-million to solar energy
projects, such as a co-investment in a solar module thin-film plant in
Paarl and the development of solar tower technology.
The Aveng construction group has allocated R20-million this year to
facilitate future wind and solar power projects and plans to set aside
more money in the future.
Similarly, Exxaro, the diversified mining company, announced last
month that it would set up a dedicated renewable energy division in
the next six months. It, too, is eyeing solar and wind to diversify
its coal-fired and waste gas co-generation projects.
Banks are eager to get in on the act by financing renewable energy
projects, nearly three-quarters of which will be debt-funded, says an
industry insider at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
The IDC has set aside R11,5-billion for the green economy in the next
five years and most banks have also identified this sector as a major
future growth area.
The South African Wind Energy Association (Sawea) said it has
conducted research to identify all projects its members have undertaken.
"Some 5 000MW-worth of projects from the Northern Cape, Western Cape
and Eastern Cape have started with wind measurement and environmental
impact studies and should be ready for construction between now and,
say, mid-20 12," said Nicolas Rolland, a Sawea board member.
"Taking into account that construction would take anything between
four months and two years depending on the size of the respective
projects, this means that before 20 15 the industry will be in a
position to commission 5 000MW of wind power generation," he said.
"On the conservative assumption that these projects will have on
average a capacity factor of approximately 30%," Rolland estimated
that "by the end of 20 15 the wind energy industry could produce 13
140GWh of energy annually".
Based on Rolland's figures, wind energy could supply about 5% of
anticipated national energy consumption by 20 15, or roughly a quarter
of residential (domestic) power consumption -- enough to light up at
least a million high-income households, or more than five times as
many low-income households.
Individual wind energy developers were keeping their projects close to
their chests for now, said Worthington, because they wanted to secure
land at favourable rates first before advertising their intentions.
But some companies had been "very bullish" about wind energy,
Worthington said, including Mainstream Renewable Power, whose local
subsidiary is developing a 30MW wind farm in Jeffreys Bay, which could
be increased to 160MW in further phases.
Vestas, a Dutch wind turbine manufacturer, set up a sales office in
Johannesburg in June and hopes to increase its profile in the country
as demand for wind turbines grow.
Worthington hoped that the wind turbine manufacturing industry would
localise its component production, but this depended on how many wind
farms were going to be built.
South Africa has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the
world. The solar energy sector, while currently lagging behind wind in
terms of the maturity of its technology and its immediate capacity,
could eventually become South Africa's biggest generator of renewable
According to Ryan Hammond, Solairedirect Southern Africa managing
director, between 500MW and 800MW of solar technology projects are
under development, although this includes projects at the very early
Eskom is leading the way in developing solar power and plans to invest
part of its R3,75-billion World Bank renewable energy loan in a 100MW
concentrated solar pilot project in Upington. Construction is
scheduled to begin in mid to late 20 12.
Upington could become the epicentre of South African solar energy.
According to a report published in the Engineering News last month,
Upington has a potential renewable energy generating capacity of 5
The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) has conducted a joint feasibility
study, with the department of energy, into a proposed 1 000MW solar
park in Upington. The project could cost about R50-billion more than
the R125-billion Medupi coal-fired power station. A conference to
gauge investor appetite for such a project will be held later this
Mainly foreign manufacturers of solar technology are considering
setting up manufacturing facilities locally in anticipation of a solar
boom. Technology vendor eSolar would do so if it could get at least
500MW of business, said Stuart Fredman, the company's South African
Meanwhile, the South African National Energy Research Institute
(Saneri) is lobbying for the creation of a solar hub in South Africa
that would set up local manufacturing capacity and boost skills and
Kadri Nassiep, the Saneri chief executive, said that the hub should be
in Gauteng, or another metro area, where infrastructure,
manufacturing capacity and postgraduate research institutions already
Biogas is gas produced by wet organic waste decomposing under
anaerobic conditions. South Africa's landfill sites have been
identified as potential biogas producers, but Nassiep believes that
biogas is a "limited resource with a very short window period" for
exploitation in South Africa.
"There are a finite number of landfill sites in the country and we
won't continue to landfill for ever. So once we've tapped into these
sites, that's it," Nassiep said.
Advasol, a hydrocarbon exploration company, is applying for licences
to explore for natural gas at nine sites off the southern Cape coast
using non-invasive, environmentally friendly satellite technology. The
company says natural gas is 60% more efficient than coal when
converted into power.
Given the relatively high start-up costs of wind and solar energy,
natural gas could provide a short- to medium-term solution to bridging
South Africa's energy supply gap while reducing carbon emissions,
There are limited opportunities for large-scale hydro-generated power
projects in South Africa, but some sites on the Orange and Jukskei
rivers could be developed further.
At present, the bulk of the country's hydro power is produced at the
mini and micro levels (below 5MW) by small developers.
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