RENEWABLE ENERGY

Energetic moves

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With South Africa’s energy needs outweighing current generating capacity, both public and private sectors are faced with the frustration of regular load shedding, tariff hikes and the resulting disruption it causes – and especially South African municipalities are severely affected.

The African Utility Week, in collaboration with Clean Power Africa, is an annual get-together of experts in the power and water industry from around the world that looks at Africa’s growing potential in this sector, showcasing the latest solutions and success stories in Africa. This year was another phenomenal success. Among the celebrations and insights, the role government, and local government in particular, plays and can benefit from innovative new water and energy solutions was highlighted at the event. Walking away with this year’s prize for ‘Municipality of the Year’, was e’Thekwini, recognised and rewarded for its Communal Ablution Blacks (CABs) and sanitation service delivery.

Also present at the event was Eskom’s newly appointed CEO, Brian Molefe, who elaborated on the utility’s expansion programme and its tie-in with renewable energy opportunities. “Eskom currently has a R580 billion (R280 billion that remains to 2018) capacity expansion programme. This is the largest capital expenditure in South Africa and Africa. While there is a 3000 MW gap in South Africa, this gap can be closed. There are cross-border opportunities in terms of gas and renewables and additional renewable IPP opportunities in South Africa that we are exploring,” he says.

From a municipal point of view, Evan Rice, CEO of Green Cape, told Service that local government’s largest benefits are likely to be seen in supply constrained areas where demand is well matched to renewable energy generation.

“For municipal owned renewable energy solutions the biggest opportunity for economic benefits lies in allowing development that would otherwise not be possible in an energy constrained environment. There is room for increased uptake of renewable energy solutions in new developments. The biggest barrier to the uptake of renewable energy is the business case, currently the investment is not yet a ‘no brainer’.

“For direct power purchases there are a lot of unknowns in the regulation space and questions around how a municipality can go about direct power purchases. For self-owned renewable energy solutions, capital is a major barrier. There is also a large need for skills and training for rooftop PV installation. There is also limited capacity in municipalities to approve renewable energy projects,” he says.

Looking at some projects that stand out as success stories, Rice says the IPPP (Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme) has been a great success story. “We have already seen reports showing that the value added by the renewable energy projects is above what has been spent on the initial projects, and the price of renewable energy has reduced significantly since the first rounds,” he says.

When asked what the possible difference is that renewable energy can make to the energy crisis in South Africa, Rice says it depends largely on the scale of investment we see in renewable energy. He explains that as he understands it, incentives are put in place, and if the industry is developed properly we could see renewable energy providing a relevant amount of breathing room for Eskom to do proper plant maintenance load shedding. He does however admit that the current renewable projects have already contributed to reducing unserved demand.

But how accessible is renewable energy to local government? DNV GL, a leading global testing, certification and advisory services company, and exclusive diamond sponsor at the Utility Week, is doing a lot in terms of exploring and understanding Africa’s energy needs and opportunities. With the event having attracted more than 5 000 power professionals and 250 exhibitors, 190 speakers, eight conferences, free technical workshops on the expo floor, three high-profile plenary sessions and a coveted industry awards gala dinner, Africa’s potential was thoroughly explored.  

The announcement by the Department of Energy (DoE) that it has approved 13 new renewable IPP bids signals the strong commitment of the South African government to continue renewable energy deployment, says Sliman Abu Amara, Area Manager Africa, DNV GL, who has been has been working on the largest wind and solar energy projects in Africa, including South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Morocco. “We encourage the whole sector to anticipate these developments and continue to help South Africa to stabilise its energy sector and solve the load shedding problems”.

The Minister of Energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, in April this year, announced a combination of energy supply and demand options that will increase the participation of the independent power producers to electricity supply to the grid as well as private participation in energy efficiency and demand side initiatives. Joemat-Pettersson said in Southern Africa, energy security is both a regional and national issue due to supply and demand locational mismatches, notably in clean energy sources such as hydro. Furthermore, the sheer scale of the demand for energy requires region-wide institutional and financial solutions.

During the African Utility event, DNV GL released findings from a large survey for Africa on three dynamics reshaping renewable and grid connection. “We know that renewables and the grid is a complex issue worldwide,” says Abu Amara. “It is the same in countries such as Germany and the US, but we are also aware of this from our work in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco. This is why at African Utility Week, we have announced the results of our survey to develop tailored solutions for African grid challenges, to enable African utilities to connect and integrate more renewables into the grid.”

DNV GL is working on the largest wind and solar energy projects in Africa, including in South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Morocco. In South Africa alone, DNV GL has been involved in nine wind projects (including Dorper and Gouda Wind Farms), and one solar project. In Kenya, DNV GL is the engineering partner in the 300MW Lake Turkana project, which will be the single largest wind park in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We have noticed a lot of things happening in the African market; in South Africa, in sub-Saharan Africa and in Northern Africa,” says Abu Amara. “The African market is ready for the penetration of larger scale renewable energy on the continent. For African utilities to continue attracting investments in solar, they have to solve issues related to grid integration. In 2020, we will see very strong deployment of solar technologies in Africa, like never before.”

Abu Amara  sees Africa’s lack of an extensive national grid network “not as a challenge but as an opportunity: to develop and install a 21st century energy network. One that is fit for the purpose of carrying energy from multiple sources, enabling trading between nations, with storage and smart systems built and designed in from the very start.”

He continues: “the technology has been developed in Europe where the challenge of retro fitting is much more difficult than starting with a clean slate. So in many ways, Africa is poised to show the world that a clean, intelligent, sustainable and sophisticated energy system can exist in this century. Overall, the provision of access to affordable clean energy, particularly in rural areas, will support rapid economic development and a reduction in environmental decline as people switch to clean energy sources.

“Everybody always smiles when you talk about solar in Africa”, says Abu Amara. “The continent has abundant sunshine so solar is its most logical choice. There are several projects starting, with South Africa again leading the market. Morocco has developed a few projects and so has Egypt, Other countries are following suit but unfortunately it is still going too slow. And that is despite the fact that during the last decade, solar has become much cheaper.”

In terms of who we can learn from, Abu Amara says Egypt is the renewable market to watch. “They are very ambitious in terms of renewable energy with a target of 20% renewable energy in the country. The political instability has caused delays, but the current government is dedicated to enable financing of renewable projects. We see Egypt as a very important market for the renewable energy sector – it is going to be growing very fast.”

“We want to be South African in South Africa. We have identified the challenges that this sector faces in these countries through our experiences. We have identified the issue of capacity and we have now developed a strategy to localise in terms of resourcing, working with universities in African countries to empower Africans to make DNV GL localised. We want to be African in Africa and we want to be South African in South Africa,” he concludes.

Michael Meiring

 

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