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10 Jul 2015 00:00
Giant wind turbines dot the landscape at the Darling Wind Power national demonstration project near Cape Town. (Photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
In 2009 the South African electricity grid collapsed. Rolling
blackouts dented the economy.
At that point 95% of the country’s grid was composed of coal-fired power stations.
emitted 230 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year — half of the
country’s entire emissions. But they
had aged and new stations were
already running behind schedule.
Renewable energy was unheard
of outside the 10-megawatt experimental wind farm in Darling in the
Now South Africa has one of the fastest-growing renewable energy building programmes in the world.
This is run by the department of energy, through its independent
power producer programme. So
far, 5 200MW of renewable energy
has been allocated across five bid-
In each of these the department
calls for a certain amount of energy,
using any kind of renewable technology. Companies then bid, promising to spend a certain percentage
of the budget locally, and supply
electricity at a guaranteed price.
The winning companies then sign
an agreement with state power utility Eskom to sell electricity for 20
Investment into the renewable energy sector
The scheme has been hailed across the world. Even renewable central
— Germany — has looked to the
model as a way of driving private
investment into the renewable
energy sector. To date, R150-billion
has been brought into the country.
This is the same cost as Medupi,
the world’s fourth biggest coal-fired
power station, for more generating
The Renewable Energy Policy
Network for the 21st Century
(REN21) report on renewables
repeatedly mentions South Africa’s
successful programme. This is the
most comprehensive yearly look at
With 800MW of solar photovoltaic built last year, South Africa was the 9th largest market for the renewable in the world. Competitive
windows have seen the price for solar
electricity drop from R1.10 per kilo-
watt-hour in the first window, to 89c
per kilowatt-hour in the last window.
The report said: “South Africa led
the African continent and retained
its place among the top 10 countries
in terms of renewable investment.”
This increased by 5% last year, to
R70-billion, it said.
According to the Public-Private
Infrastructure Advisory Facility,
the price of solar photovoltaic has
dropped by 68% across the windows.
Wind prices have dropped by 42%. In
the first year of the renewable build,
installed wind capacity jumped from
10MW to 570MW.
South Africa leads the world in
installing concentrated solar plants
(CSP). Clustered in the Northern
Cape — which has one of the highest
levels of solar radiation in the world
— the six plants being built are the
only renewable which has storage
Temperatures that can spike as
high as 50 ?C and 350 days of sunlight a year mean the plants can store
and supply electricity at night. The
100MW KaXu Solar One plant has
already started providing electricity
through its 326 000 mirrors. The six
plants, when operational, will provide 500MW of baseload capacity to
the national grid.
And while the biggest share of the
renewable build is taken up by wind
and solar photovoltaic, government
has been pushing numerous legislative measures to drive renewables.
Its solar water geyser programme has
rolled out a quarter of its one-million
target across the country, particularly
in homes that would otherwise be
unable to afford electricity for water
The transport department has
introduced mandatory blending,
which will ensure that petrol will
have to be blended with biofuels.
Several biofuel plants are being built,
thanks to the guaranteed market.
Housing regulations have also
been updated, requiring new and
renovated houses to generate
50% of their water heated from
A chance to ‘reindustrialise’
Municipalities are also embracing
the build. The city of Bloemfontein
is using turbines inside water pipes
to both lower water pressure — to
stop leaks — and generate electric-
ity. Several mines are using renewables to generate power and heat
their plants. Others have proposed
that they build entire solar farms to
supply their operations, and sell to
the national grid.
Local industry has also grown
around the build. Groups such as
Cosatu have hailed it as a chance
for the country to “reindustrialise”.
Companies have to spend 70% of
their budget locally, forcing procurement inside South Africa.
Factories are being built in Port
Elizabeth and Cape Town — a R300-million factory building the towers
for wind farms recently opened in
Atlantis outside Cape Town. Solar
panel factories have created 500
jobs, with many more created in
constructing the renewable plants.
But there have been several hurdles in the process. Concentrated
solar thermal is not being built in
large capacity because the energy
department’s 2010 energy plan did
not value concentrated solar properly. It overlooked the fact that the
renewable could store electricity,
hence making it better than other
Government also delayed the
last renewable window by over a
year, almost forcing the closure of
some local manufacturing plants.
Teething problems have delayed the
process — such as Eskom’s inability to connect plants on time — but
these have since been worked out.
With Eskom facing a R200-billion
shortfall in its budget, the renewable build is seen by the energy
department as one way to ensure
funding for power generation.
In March, the department said
it would be approaching the National Energy Regulator to
get a further 6 000MW allocation for renewables. This would
more than double their capacity, making them contribute 20%
to the national grid — more than
the nuclear build and new coal
The South African programme is
however still dwarfed by events
elsewhere, especially in wind
energy. In 2005 the world had
12 000MW of wind capacity
installed. It now has 370 000MW
installed. A third of this is in
China — which built 23 000MW
last year alone.
Twenty-four countries now have
more than a thousand megawatts
of wind energy installed. In total
capacity, renewable energy supply
grew from 85 000MW in 2004 to
657 000MW a decade later — representing a quarter of worldwide
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