Decentralised energy provision

Unlike countries such as Germany, South Africa plans to procure most of its renewable energy from large projects. Wind and solar farms that generate up to 100MW therefore make up the bulk of the country’s renewable energy programme.

But the country’s energy plans also make provision for decentralised electricity provision, for example through solar water geyser programmes and small-scale hydroelectric power schemes. Electricity is created at the point where it is used, cutting out the need for expensive transmission lines that lose up to a third of the energy they carry. 

Solar Home Systems

Starting in 2001, government has installed 96 000 solar systems on homes too far from the conventional electric grid to be connected. Focusing mostly on Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, this programme utilises small solar systems to provide households with lighting and enough power for small devices such as radios. 

Solar Water Heaters

One of the biggest outcomes of Eskom’s 2008 energy crisis was a focus on reducing demand during peak hours. The subsequent demand side reduction programme saw government commit to roll out a million geysers by 2015. Only 20% of that goal has been achieved, but it has seen huge savings for poorer householders.  

Bio- and Landfill Gas

Turning waste and organic material into energy is one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy generation. The projects identified in South Africa have however all been below 5MW and have been too small to attract loans from banks. A few small projects have been built — such as in eThekwini, where landfill sites now generate electricity.

Biofuel

South Africa published its Biofuels Industrial Strategy half a decade ago, which planned for mandatory blending of biofuel into conventional fuel by 2016. This was dependant on the programme not affecting food security. Nearly 500 million litres of biofuel would need to be produced to realise a ratio of 2% biofuel in the country’s fuel used by normal vehicles. But the programme has met with serious problems with regards to growing crops and turning them into fuel. 

Solar Photovoltaic

South Africa’s largest renewable rollout has been through conventional solar photovoltaic panels. 

These provide the quickest and cheapest rollout of renewable energy, as they can be built on a home, or on the scale of a 100MW solar farm to supply tens of thousands of households.  The final photovoltaic build will add 8 400MW to the national grid.

Concentrated Solar Power

The only renewable source that provides storage and baseload power, concentrated solar power (CSP) has been under-utilised because Parliament has not adopted an updated version of the Integrated Resource Plan 2010. 

This corrects a pricing error which saw CSP lose out to other renewables because the value of its storage ability was not included. 

Only a handful of CSP plants are being built, with a total allocation of 1 200MW, mostly in the Northern Cape.    

Wind

South Africa’s first wind farm was the 8MW project outside Darling in the Western Cape. This and provided a test case for wind in the rest of the country. In 2009 work started on a wind atlas, which identified the best places to build turbines — mostly along the coastline — from the Namibian border to southern KwaZulu-Natal.