While South Africa’s power grid struggles to supply the country with enough electricity, nine renewable-energy projects with the potential to produce 3 607 MW of power, initiated by joint venture (JV) Mainstream Renewable Power South Africa (Mainstream SA), are under- going environmental-impact assessments (EIAs).
Land for the nine projects has been secured. The proposed renewable-energy facilities will use wind turbines and at least three will include photovoltaic cells to generate electricity that will be fed into the national power grid.
In early 2009, Mainstream SA was formed by a JV agreement between Mainstream Renewable Power, in Dublin, Ireland, and South African energy development and man- agement services company Genesis Eco-Energy. Mainstream SA is based in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. The com- pany’s vision is to develop, build and operate in excess of 500 MW of wind, concentrator photovoltaic and concentrating solar power projects by 2014.
Genesis Eco-Energy has a long history of promoting renewable energy in South Africa, while Mainstream Renewable Power was esta- blished in February 2008 by founder Dr Eddi O’Connor and former CEO and corporate finance manager of one of the world’s foremost wind energy development companies, Airtricity Fintan Whelan. Mainstream Renewable Power aims to develop, build and operate renewable-energy plants in collaboration with strategic partners across Europe, North America, South America and South Africa. The company’s staff have a strong record for funding, developing and delivering large-scale wind projects worldwide.
The Western Cape will boast wind farms at Maasrust, near Lamberts Bay, Nooitgedacht, Dwarskerbos, near Veldrif, on the West Coast, as well as Konstabel and Perdekraal, near Touwsrivier, and Beaufort West along the N1. The Northern Cape will host two projects at Sutherland and Victoria West.
Maasrust will be home to 136 wind turbines with a generation capacity of 313 MW. This is enough to power 548 025 typical South African households, using 1 500 kWh/y of power each, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 694 622 t/y. The company’s Dwarskersbos site will have 44 wind turbines, generating 101 MW, enough to power 177 302 households and reducing CO2 emissions by 224 730 t/y while the company’s Nooitgedacht wind farm will comprise 98 wind turbines, which will generate 225 MW of power. This is enough energy to power 394 901 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 500 537 t/y.
The Konstabel site will host 75 wind turbines with a gene- ration capacity of 173 MW, which can power 302 220 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 383 064 t/y. The Beaufort West wind farm will have 219 wind turbines, generating 504 MW of power, enough to power 882 482 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 1 118 546 t/y. The Perdekraal wind farm will have 169 wind turbines and generate 389 MW, enough to power 681 002 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 863 171 t/y.
A wind farm in Victoria West, in the Northern Cape, will have 534 wind turbines, which can generate 1 228 MW of electricity. This project has the potential to power 2 151 806 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 2,727 414 t/y.
Sutherland, also in the Northern Cape, will host a wind farm of 293 wind turbines with a generation capacity of 674 MW. This is enough to power 1 180 672 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 1 496 503 t/y.
Genesis Eco-Energy operations director and Mainstream SA development director Davin Chown reports that the company’s Jeffreys Bay site, in the Eastern Cape, is the most advanced of the projects as the public participation process for phase two is coming to an end. The combined phases include 73 wind turbines, generating 168 MW, enough to power 294 161 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 372 848,81 t/y. The first phase of the project has a positive environmental record of decision to build 16 turbines of 2,5 MW each.
Construction of the Jeffreys Bay wind farm is scheduled to start in early 2011, while the rest of the projects should start in 2012. But this depends on the out- come of the renewable-energy feed-in-tariff (Refit) process and related regulatory and institutional developments, which may delay the construction start dates.
Mainstream SA head of project managers Leila Mahomed-Weideman says that, when all the wind farm projects are commissioned, 1 568 wind turbines with a generation capacity of 3 607 MW will be operational in South Africa. This is enough energy to power 6, 612 573 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 8 381 437 t/y.
Mahomed-Weideman says that as all the projects are in the permitting phase, which involves the issuing of relevant permits, such as the EIA approval, and the sizes of the wind farms may have to be adapted after the release of the EIA results and response from Eskom with regard to the capacity of the grid.
She explains that all the wind farms will require substations, roads, cabling and operation and maintenance buildings, in addition to the installation of the turbines. Some will also require transmission lines to connect points to the national grid. The company expects the installed cost for every megawatt to range between R17-million and R19-million.
“Renewable energy, especially wind, plays an important role in derisking the economy. Free fuels, such as wind, solar and marine energy, are a zero fuel cost to the energy system. This means the more free fuel we use, the less fossil fuel we use. The price of fossil fuels is volatile and exposes the country to commodity risks. We need to derisk our economy and help to further push up the gross domestic product. Renewable energy will play a huge role in providing energy security for South Africa,” says Chown.
He believes that diversifying energy sources by adding a free fuel to the system will result in a lower wholesale energy price. This will buffer South Africa against the volatility of fossil fuel price increases and lower the need for imports and use of fossil fuels, resulting in a lowered risk of carbon fines into the future. In turn, this will have a positive impact on achieving South Africa’s climate change commitments, help to conserve already stressed water resources and reduce the health risks for South Africans living close to coal-fired power stations.
“As we move along the path to a low carbon future, developing the renewable industry will provide a significant step in the right direction.”
However, Chown says, the con- struction of the coal-fired Medupi power station seems to be a necessary evil that has already been decided on, as South Africa has no choice but to provide short-term energy security to further secure investment into the country. He believes that, had proper planning been in place and had government done its homework on renewable energy, the development and construction of renew- able-energy projects could have started many years ago, allowing South Africa to avoid the costly exercise of building Medupi and being a leading CO2 emitter in Africa.
“Medupi is much more expensive and taking much longer to build than initially planned, and the carbon fines for continuing to push a high-carbon development path will have a negative financial impact on South Africa. Wind projects traditionally have a much shorter lead time than coal projects.”
Chown says that cogeneration projects will definitely play a role in the provision of alternative energy in South Africa, as, in the short term, it will provide a welcome relief for the country and additional security for the large-scale energy-intensive users.
Mainstream SA reports that South Africa is extremely well endowed with renewable resources, in particular wind and solar. The company’s resource assessments show that the country currently has a commercially viable wind resource of 70 GW.
Chown says: “The actual potential is three times this figure. Mainstream SA’s research, combined with on-the-ground measurements, shows that the wind blows during South Africa’s peak electricity consumption period, which is mostly during the day.”
Further, the intermittency and variability of wind are much less than initially thought, thereby enhancing the value of wind to the South African generation portfolio. The company conducted an exercise whereby it developed a virtual wind power plant dispersed at eight locations in the country, chosen because of the abundance of wind in these areas, most likely to attract investors. The 30-GW virtual plant, generating power at 30% of its capacity, with the usual 98% availability, which is common for wind turbines, shows that this can generate a baseload portfolio of 6 GW out of the total production of 9 GW. With Refit in place, which will be highly competitive, given the current trend of energy prices in the next three to five years, wind is the most rapidly deployable, economically viable energy resource for South Africa.
However, Mainstream Renewable Power and Genesis Eco-Energy believe that all free fuel resources warrant investment, because the fuel is free, and will help South Africa circumvent future price increases and fossil fuel volatility. Chown explains that wind, in particular, needs a lot less maintenance than coal-fired or nuclear plants, and will generate electricity at cheaper prices and, therefore, make a good long-term energy investment.
“Wind will be the quickest technology to deploy and will last for a long time, 35 years or more, and can easily be upgraded and refurbished as new techno- logy comes on the market. The value of using wind as a source for power includes high job crea- tion in the construction and deve- lopment stages, as well as in the potential manufacturing stage, a contribution to rural development and poverty alleviation, a contribution to local economic development, water saving and reducing transmission and distribution losses,” he says.
Further, Chown adds that including renewable energy as an alternative source of power will decrease the overall wholesale prices of electricity because the country will use less fossil fuels, therefore decreasing the demand for fossil fuels and forcing down the price. It will also put a zero cost fuel into the mix, which will also assist in lowering the overall price.
Mainstream Renewable Power and Genesis Eco-Energy believe that open-cycle gas turbines, which run on expensive diesel, cost from R3/kWh to R4/kWh, compared with the R1,25/kWh for wind energy or the R2,10/kWh for solar. This, they argue, is without factoring in the potential water and carbon fine savings. Which means that someone other than Eskom is paying the real price, who, at this point, is the consumer and the South African citizen.