• Blow by blow account

    With a total of 140 wind farms expected to be operational in Africa by 2020, the importance of this form of renewable energy is undeniable.

    Blow by blow account

    South Africa is well known for its excellent solar resource but the recently developed Wind Atlas confirms that the country also has exceptional wind resources. In fact, South Africa is the largest wind-power producer on the continent, also holding the biggest share of wind power procured. Currently, the country has more than 400 turbines generating green energy, with more being developed under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme. Via the REIPPP, South Africa plans to install 8.4 GW of wind power by 2030, complementing other initiatives such as solar, biomass and mini-hydro projects.

    Brenda Martin, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association, says wind power currently accounts for more than 52% of South Africa’s renewable power generation. ‘The IRP 2010 [Integrated Resource Plan 2010–2030] anticipated that 10% of South Africa’s power mix by 2030 would be provided by wind power,’ she says, requiring 9 200 MW of wind power to be constructed by 2030.

    According to the latest Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme overview, by the end of March 2017, the REIPPP had successfully implemented seven bid windows from which it procured 6 422 MW from 112 independent power producers (IPPs). Wind IPPs had contributed some 3 366 MW of this. The Q1 2015/16 REIPPP Focus on Wind report stated that wind power has been anticipated, by the IRP and independent researchers, as ‘the technology most likely to contribute significantly to the South African energy mix because of technology maturity and established global capacity’.

    Wind-project developers in South Africa include local and international companies, with some local firms partnering with foreign companies to establish joint ownership on projects. ‘By the end of 2016, the Department of Energy reported that the REIPPP had attracted approximately ZAR194 billion of new investment in four years. Of this, ZAR74 billion is for onshore wind IPPs,’ Martin says.

    However, Martin notes, unless the currently ongoing power purchase agreement (PPA) impasse is resolved, no new developments are on the cards for the coming months. ‘Eskom had previously signed 64 PPAs, and a few of those are in the final stages of construction, but the remaining 37 projects, representing a total investment value of over ZAR58 billion and over 15 000 jobs committed by those project developers, are currently all on hold,’ she says.

    ‘The still-continuing two-year impasse has caused the entire IPP programme to grind to a halt. The wind industry is best able to provide its value proposition at utility-scale, so the continuation of the REIPPP is an essential part of continued wind industry growth in SA.’ She adds that the ‘continued lack of policy certainty’ is the greatest challenge currently facing South Africa’s renewables sector.

    Chris Bellingham, head of development at Juwi Renewable Energies, says that while utility-scale and small-scale wind opportunities in South Africa are good, there is a gap for a medium-sized procurement programme. He defines ‘medium’ as between 5 MW and 40 MW. ‘We are not talking here about 40- or 50-turbine sites, we are talking about five- to eight-turbine sites, almost similar in size to the plants found in Europe. We need this programme because there are plentiful opportunities and still far better pricing than with fossil fuels.’

    He adds that while the small-scale programme (around 5 MW) is a good idea, and a viable entry option for IPPs to get into the energy mix, this is ‘basically too small for wind’.

    ‘A bigger programme will be far more successful,’ he says. ‘A lot of developers aren’t even paying attention to the small-scale wind scenario, and you see very few projects even trying it. We mustn’t scrap it though, as it may develop its own technology options, such as smaller turbines, which will help it grow. But for the long term, we need to see medium-sized programmes coming into place. That will have a huge impact on our options in South Africa.’

    The continent is home to several areas that lend themselves to wind-power generation. Martin says wind power has been developed at scale mostly within the North and East Africa sub-regions. ‘At the end of 2011, over 98% of the continent’s total wind-power installed capacity, just over 993 MW, was generated in only four countries – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Cape Verde,’ she says. This means that the North African sub-region alone claimed a huge share of about 96%. By the end of 2013, wind-energy installed capacity in Africa had grown to just more than 1 145 MW, says Martin. With the exception of South Africa, this included Cape Verde (24 MW), Egypt (550 MW), Ethiopia (171 MW), Kenya (5 MW), Morocco (291 MW) and Tunisia (104 MW).

    According to Dinesh Buldoo, director of transmission, distribution and power at WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff Africa, Somalia has the highest onshore potential of any country, followed by Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, Egypt, Madagascar and Kenya. Offshore wind-energy potential is considerable just off the coast of Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania, Buldoo adds.

    ‘At present, utility-scale turbines range in size from 100 kW to as large as 3 MW – where currently the typical total rated capacity of an African wind farm is smaller than 150 MW,’ says Buldoo. ‘However, larger wind turbines are more cost-effective and are grouped together into wind farms, which provide bulk power to the electrical grid. In this respect, projects in the pipeline are increasingly pushing the boundaries, with projects of between 300 MW and 700 MW also under consideration.’

    South Africa aside, some of the key countries in Africa that either have current projects under construction or review for deployment at utility level include Morocco, Namibia and Egypt. In Morocco, the Tarfaya wind farm is the largest on the continent, adding 301 MW of electricity to the country’s grid. Tarfaya is also one of several wind farms that will be built under the Moroccan government’s Integrated Wind Energy Project. Over a 10-year period, the country will invest US$3.24 billion into growing its energy generation capacity from 250 MW in 2010 to 2 000 MW by 2020.

    In Namibia, the Diaz wind farm in Lüderitz will bring an additional 44 MW to Namibia’s national grid. As a joint venture between the United Africa Group and Quantum Power, the project’s aim was to build the country’s first green energy project and alleviate some of the pressure on the Southern African grid. Namibia intends to focus on growing this form of renewable energy generation capacity within the country. Egypt, meanwhile, has impressive national plans to install 7 GW of wind power by 2020.

    In addition to the growing number of projects increasing in size at a utility level, Buldoo says there is also a place for smaller turbines in mini-grids that bring important power to outlying areas that would be feasibly impossible to electrify otherwise. ‘There are many examples on the continent where hybrid systems comprising wind, solar, mini-hydro and diesel generators work together to electrify small, isolated communities,’ he says.

    A total of 140 wind farms are expected to be operational in Africa by 2020, Buldoo notes, bringing 21 GW to power grids across the continent. ‘This is certainly a testament that wind is taking its rightful place in the African electricity-generation arena, complementing the incredible work done by the developed world in improving the viability and efficiency of this sustainable energy,’ he says.

    By Toni Muir
    Images: Gallo/Getty Images