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Renewable energy here to stay says local analyst

Story from: The Announcer

Local renewable-energy (RE) analyst, Stephen Forder, tracks and monitors RE developments in South Africa and on the African continent. He is the founder and editor of The Energy Blog (http://energy.org.za), an “independent online news, information & collaboration platform focussing on renewable energy & development in South Africa.”

Forder was recently nominated and shortlisted for a special-contribution award by the SA National Energy Association for his online efforts, both with The Energy Blog and social media, in promoting access to information in the RE sector.  The news of the award came as he was addressing FAST (the Forum for Astronomy, Science and Technology) in Port Alfred a few weeks ago, where he delivered a 90-minute presentation titled ‘Renewable Energy in SA: the good, the bad and the ugly’.

Since his last presentation to FAST about two years ago, it would seem that the current RE scenario in South Africa leans more towards the bad and the ugly than the good, primarily because Eskom have not honoured target commitments from government to incorporate 17.8 GW (gigawatts) of renewable energy into the national power grid by 2030.

Our Integrated Resource Plan, which has not been updated since 2010, was aimed at 21% of power generation coming from RE sources by 2030.

Until very recently, thanks to an unprecedented public-private partnership between the government and independent power producers (IPPs), South Africa was rated among the top ten in the world in terms of its investment in renewable energy.  We were widely acknowledged as ‘one of the greatest renewable energy shows on earth’.

Since then, however, Eskom’s refusal to sign outstanding Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with 37 IPPs has caused the much-lauded programme to grind to a halt.  The utility has cited the cost of purchasing renewable power as its main concern, but fails to acknowledge the dramatic drop in power prices between the initial stages of the programme and the current prices for the various technologies, including solar, wind, small hydro, landfill gas and bio-energy.  In fact, wind power is currently the cheapest – and one of the quickest – new-build technologies per unit of power generated to bring onto the grid.

The result of the impasse is that R60-billion worth of investment in the building of the 37 plants is being held up at a time when the country’s economy can least afford it; this has effectively brought the renewable-energy industry to its knees, with some large manufacturers having already left the country and a number of local businesses, many of them black-owned, being forced to close their doors.

In a blow to the Eastern Cape, the R536-million Coega wind-tower manufacturer – DCD Wind Towers – has been mothballed, resulting in job losses and loss of manufacturing revenue, forestalling the hopes that South Africa would become a key RE manufacturing hub as markets develop in the rest of Africa.

Amidst the carnage caused by Eskom’s refusal to sign the PPAs, lobbyists for fossil and nuclear power maintain that an energy mix with a high penetration of renewable energy will not be able to maintain the stable base load required to power the country’s economy, yet independent studies, such as those conducted by the CSIR and UCT’s Energy Research Centre, suggest otherwise.

There is nevertheless much to be positive about.  For instance, one of the more interesting aspects of the programme, and one which distinguishes it from other programmes around the world, is the socio-economic development component built into the programme.  As part of its licensing conditions, each renewable energy plant has to source a certain percentage of the workforce from the local community; the community has to be a part-shareholder of the plant; and a certain percentage of annual revenue has to be spent on enterprise and socio-economic development projects within a 50-km radius.

So far, funds committed to socio-economic development over the next 20 years amount to R20.6 billion, and plant construction  has revitalised and diversified the local economies of many small South African towns. The aerial views of the massive solar PV plant in De Aar and the Bokpoort concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) plant are breathtaking, to say the least.  These are but two examples of many successful solar PV, CSP and wind power plants dotted about all over the county; we even have a biomass plant.

By March this year, we had already reached 44% of our RE target for 2020.   So despite the current deadlock, the closure of large manufacturing concerns, and the dire impact of this deadlock on the various local RE community-development projects, South Africa still has much to be proud of on the RE front.

“No-one will be able to stop renewal energy’s inexorable march.  It is a simple matter of the laws of physics taking over from the dirty and unsustainable technologies of the past,” say Forder. “Even with the delays in the utility-scale renewable energy rollout, businesses and homes are turning to behind-the-metre technologies, such as solar photovoltaics and solar water heating, as the financial case to do so becomes increasingly compelling.”  – ShirleyMarais, in collaboration with Stephen Forder.

Readers can view the latest IPPs on

https://ipp-projects.co.za/Publications/GetPublicationFile?fileid=504eb591-e449-e711-946d-2c59e59ac9cd&fileName=20170601_IPP%20Office%20Q4_2016-17%20Overview.pdf

The paper by SAREC (South African Renewable Energy Council) that addresses and debunks Eskom’s RE concerns can be found on:

http://sarec.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Briefing-note_final-1.pdf

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