18 July 2013, Johannesburg – South Africans have traditionally relied upon their plentiful coal reserves to supply over 90 percent of their electricity needs. Only in the past decade has national energy policy taken note of abundant wind and solar resources. Economic growth in the past two decades has outstripped electricity capacity, and now the country needs to catch up.
As a result, Eskom, South Africa’s national electricity provider, is investing for the first time in utility-scale renewable energy, even as it also goes ahead with new coal-fired plants. The Renewables Support Programme, worth $1.3 billion, will see Eskom develop the first commercial-scale wind farm in the country and one of the world’s largest concentrating solar power, CSP, plants. Each of these two projects will add 100MW to the grid.
Financing for the programme has been obtained from the Clean Technology Fund (part of the Climate Investment Funds), theInternational Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and theAfrican Development Bank.
“The programme is strongly linked to the government’s development agenda,” explained Clean Technology Fund representative Steven Shalita. The projects were approved as the “best approach” to meeting South Africa’s goal of shifting the balance of its energy mix to 42 percent clean energy while reducing its carbon emissions.
“Renewable energy will contribute to improved generation capacity and make electricity generally more reliable and resistant to fossil-price fluctuations,” he said. Because components can be sourced locally, the projects would also contribute to domestic industrial development and employment – both national priorities in a country with an official unemployment rate of 25 percent and widespread poverty.
According to the Clean Technology Fund, CTF, investment plan for South Africa, prepared in 2009, concentrating solar power plants have vast potential to be scaled up around the region. “In South Africa alone, Eskom estimates 40 gigawatts of commercially viable CSP in the Northern and Western Cape provinces. Replication in Namibia and Botswana could double or treble this potential,” the authors say.
In addition, solar plants could help to stabilise emissions, in line with President Jacob Zuma’s pledge to reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025. South Africa, despite its status as a developing country, is the 11th largest carbon emitter in the world.
– Jocelyn Newmarch, Alertnet.