• Taking the breeze

    Through the increased use of wind farms in South Africa, a considerable impact on GDP could be achieved by 2030, with thousands of jobs being created

    Taking the breeze

    ‘Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing sources of electricity worldwide due to it being the cleanest, most affordable and safest method of generating electricity,’ says Brenda Martin, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA). Wind power has taken a large share of the planned renewable energy investments to date, now supplying 52% of South Africa’s renewable energy power, she adds. ‘It costs 33% of the renewable energy power purchase bill and is forecast to contribute 59% of renewable energy power-related emissions reductions over project lifespans. Thus far in South Africa, 6 360 MW of wind power has been determined for procurement from independent power producers [IPPs] – in other words, 69% of the capacity planned by 2030 in terms of the IRP 2010 [Integrated Resource Plan].’

    Dinesh Buldoo, director of power at WSP Africa, also speaks highly of wind’s potential. ‘There are now more than 900 wind turbines generating green energy in South Africa and contributing substantially to the country’s national grid,’ he says, adding that technological innovations have also changed the industry for the better. ‘There have been impressive improvements in terms of wind turbine technologies, when it comes to the design of these systems. For instance, there is significant focus on advanced blade-manufacturing methods based mainly on alternative manufacturing techniques such as injection moulding, compression moulding and reaction injection moulding. The advantages are shorter fabrication time, lower cost for parts, and increased repeatability and uniformity.’ Storage options, which have always been a challenge, are also improving, he says.

    However, one of the most important developments in the wind sector is, in his opinion, the ongoing development of the Wind Atlas for South Africa, which is helping with the identification of exceptional wind development zones. ‘The Wind Atlas has been mapping the Western Cape, parts of the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape,’ he says, while additional funding from the Danish government will see this expanded into the rest of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Free State.

    According to SAWEA, there are currently 36 preferred-bidder wind IPPs with a total capacity of 3 366 MW in South Africa. Some 22 operational wind IPPs have already started commercial operation, contributing 1 980 MW of installed capacity to the national grid.

    ‘Since the inception of the REIPPP, wind tariffs have also dropped by 50% to around 79c/kWh, making wind prices comparable to new coal-based power generation and making South African renewable energy tariffs competitive relative to the rest of the world,’ says Martin.

    No fewer than 10 wind farms, each with an installed capacity of 100 MW or more, are currently under construction in South Africa. The largest of these wind farms include Nxuba – 148 MW, with 47 wind turbine generators (WTGs) – Oyster Bay (147.6 MW, with 41 WTGs), Karusa (147 MW, with 35 WTGs), Roggeveld (147 MW, with 47 WTGs), Soetwater (147 MW, with 35 WTGs), and Garob (144.9 MW, with 46 WTGs).

    Around 900 wind turbines are in operation in South Africa – a figure that is on an upward trajectory

    Nxuba, in the Eastern Cape, is expected to generate more than 460 GWh per year once fully operational. According to its developers Enel Green Power RSA (EGP RSA), Nxuba will employ cutting-edge tools, processes and building practices, allowing for more accurate and reliable data collection and better quality of construction. Nxuba will be supported by a 20-year power supply agreement with South African electricity utility Eskom, as part of the REIPPP tender and is expected to be complete by September 2020. It is the first of five projects awarded to EGP RSA in South Africa’s 2015 renewable tender. The company’s other projects include Oyster Bay (Eastern Cape), Karusa, Soetwater and Garob (all Northern Cape), with the five projects representing a cumulative investment of ZAR19.7 billion. Meanwhile, Roggeveld wind farm, being developed by G7 Renewable Energies, will generate 613 GWh of electricity per year – enough to meet the needs of approximately 49 200 households. The farm, situated on the boundary between the Western and Northern Cape provinces in the Karoo, has a commercial operation date of April 2021.

    Projects currently under construction aside, one of South Africa’s largest fully operational wind farms is the Longyuan Mulilo De Aar 2 North wind farm, which has been operational since November 2017. The facility is located near De Aar, Northern Cape, and has 96 WTGs producing 144 MW of electricity.

    Looking to the wider continent, Africa has made remarkable progress in harnessing the benefits of wind energy. In 2017, Lake Turkana opened in north-western Kenya, comprising 365 wind turbine units of 850 kW each, with a cumulative capacity of 310 MW, making it sub-Saharan Africa’s largest wind farm. Lake Turkana is also the single-biggest private investment in Kenya to date.

    According to Buldoo, Africa has several areas that lend themselves to wind-power generation, noting that Somalia has the highest onshore potential of any country, followed by Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, Egypt, Kenya and Madagascar. Offshore wind energy potential is considerable just off the coast of Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Angola, he adds. ‘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 between 300 MW and 700 MW also under consideration,’ he says.

    Some of the countries that have current projects either under construction or review for deployment at utility level include Egypt, Morocco and Namibia, with Morocco considered a leader in wind generation on the continent at present, says Buldoo. Morocco’s Tarfaya wind farm is the second-largest on the continent (after Lake Turkana), stretching for 100 km2 across the Saharan desert and 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 280 MW in 2010 to 2 000 MW by 2020,’ according to Buldoo.

    Namibia’s Diaz wind farm in Lüderitz, a joint venture between the United Africa Group and Quantum Power, will bring an additional 44 MW to the country’s national grid, while Egypt has impressive national plans to install 7 GW of wind power by 2020.

    Back in South Africa, Martin says that SAWEA has consistently lobbied government to take a bolder approach to investing in renewables and that by referencing economic model outcomes, it has been able to illustrate that ‘adopting an approach which both smooths out annual procurement and raises annual procurement limits on renewables can result in both job creation and GDP growth’.

    Indeed, Buldoo says that while previously the wind sector was often met with sceptical questions on how wind energy could be a suitable energy source for South Africa, it has incredible potential. ‘Under the REIPPP, South Africa had planned to install 8.4 GW of wind power by 2030 – complementing other initiatives, such as solar, biomass, and mini-hydro projects. This is certainly testament that wind is taking its rightful place in the South African electricity-generation arena. And, once there is more clarity on the way forward with the 27 new REIPPP project awards, we expect to see more wind-energy projects coming through the pipeline,’ he says.

    South Africa is, however, still awaiting the imminent release of the IRP, says Martin. ‘The clear technology investment roadmap it provides is essential to investor certainty over a multi-decade time horizon. Such certainty is particularly important for growing job-creating prospects in South Africa’s renewable manufacturing sector.’

    Martin adds that pending the finalisation of the IRP, in the context of ongoing electricity supply constraint, the wind industry looks forward to the announcement of the next procurement round. ‘The last set of preferred bidders [was] announced in mid-2015 and those PPAs were only signed in April 2018,’ she says. ‘Utility-scale wind and solar PV projects only require an average lead time of two years to generate power, so timing is of the essence.’

    SAWEA says renewable energy has invested ZAR202 billion (24% of which is foreign direct investment) in the South African economy to date, contributed 26 840 GWh to the national grid and created about 36 500 jobs. Ancillary benefits include ZAR640.3 million invested into socio-economic development contributions to communities and ZAR204.6 million invested in local enterprise development. Meanwhile, on the environmental front, some 27 tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent – a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints) energy-related carbon has been avoided and 32.2 kilolitres of energy-related water use has been avoided.

    The South African government seems to have recognised the strong performance by renewables and has chosen a policy path that aims to optimise their investment potential – specifically with regard to job creation and GDP growth, SAWEA notes. Through the allocation of 1.5 GW of wind per annum between the years 2021 and 2030, the country can expect a total GDP impact by the wind industry alone of approximately ZAR200 billion by 2030, along with the realisation of more than 70 000 jobs, the industry body says.

    By Toni Muir
    Images: Gallo/Getty Images, Loeriesfontein Wind