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As South Africa begins to unlock the potential of alternative energy, the simplicity of wind farm technology holds obvious benefits. Extensive research has been invested in assessing the viability of wind farming in the South African context.
Instrumental in this process has been the South African Wind Energy Association, SAWEA, who has compiled a comprehensive proposed Integrated Resource Plan for wind energy in South Africa. Some of the key findings are listed below.
Wind energy can, by 2025, provide 20% of South Africa’s projected electricity demand. This can be achieved through the establishment of a distributed portfolio of wind farms with an installed capacity of 30 000MW spread over the country that would, as a result of the countries variable climate, result in a reliable base load of guaranteed power of about 6000MW.
Wind power consumes no water. Other sources of electricity, such as coal and nuclear, consume considerable quantities of water. Installing 30 000MW of wind power would save the amount of water used by a city of 300 000 people. Given that South Africa has currently technically run out of water and cannot guarantee each citizen their constitutional right to clean running water, this saving of water is very important from a human rights perspective.
Wind power has considerable job creation potential in South Africa, with the potential that a 30 000MW industry would create upwards of 40 000 quality jobs.
Wind power also saves money by displacing more expensive electricity sources from the grid. Currently, quite a significant amount of South Africa’s electricity is provided by generation systems that use either diesel, or gas, or aviation fuel, costing more than R2-R3 per kWh of electricity produced. The fact that these generation systems also use up scarce transport fuels for making electricity, means that consumers pay twice for this electricity, once when they use the electricity, and a second time when they buy fuel, or use products which require fuel to produce, as the use of vehicle fuel to produce electricity increases the cost of fuel.
Wind power will save money in terms of carbon penalties we would have to pay as a nation. From 2012, there will be an array of penalties and taxes that will come into play with regards a nation’s carbon output. If South Africa installs 30 000MW of wind power by 2025, this will save us from emitting 70 million tons per annum of carbon dioxide. Current projections suggest that soon we will have to as a country pay in the region of €40 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted – this would mean that installing 30 000MW of wind power would save us more than R32 billion (€3.3 billion) per annum in carbon taxes.
Wind power is a distributed power source – in other words it tends to be most effective if you have wind farms dotted all over a very wide area – the wider the better. If your town or city is far away from a power plant, this means that currently, your electricity will be of quite a low quality, as there are surges and lags in supply that happen if electricity has to travel long distances through power lines. By having a wind farm in your area, this wind farm feeds electricity into the grid, and adds a local supply, which helps to reduce surges in power, meaning that appliances last longer. 30 000MW of installed wind power would stop us releasing 70 million tons of carbon dioxide per annum. To put this in perspective, if we had to burn coal to produce the electricity for 40 years instead, we would have to burn enough coal to cover a piece of land 100km long and 28km wide 1 meter deep in coal.
Science in Africa, August 2010
Dr Garth Cambray