New grid hubs important for improved renewable energy delivery

NOVEMBER 6, 2015

Timeous connection to the electricity grid is considered a major constraint for the improved integration of renewable energies into South Africa’s energy mix.

Chris Bellingham, Senior Project Development Manager at juwi Renewable Energies, believes that new grid hubs in high renewable energy (RE) resource areas are important if RE is to maintain and improve upon the current momentum it has as an effective utility–scale solution to South Africa’s essential energy requirements.

“In South Africa, with its exceptionally good solar and wind energy resources, renewables has already proven to play a significant role in addressing the current energy supply crisis.

"Although the Government’s REIPPP program is a success, key aspects could be improved and there are literally hundreds of projects equating to many thousands of megawatts waiting in the wings to assist in facilitating economic growth through the generation of lower-cost and clean renewable energy on to the electricity grid. The relatively low annual Government allocations and limited grid connection availability, in particular, are the bottlenecks to increased project rollout,” said Bellingham.

“Traditionally, (coal) power is generated in the northeast of the country and from there is distributed to the remainder of the country. We are now seeing the beginning of a shift in generation which will eventually see a significant amount of low-cost clean energy coming from the RE resource-rich areas in the south and west of the country.

"However, in order to open up many of the best resource areas new, suitable bulk grid connection points will need to be established; unfortunately with the current Eskom monopoly of transmission assets and investment into the sector it is difficult to see this happening at the desired rate.”

The REIPPP program has been influential in bringing business and government together to combine their efforts to deliver on the country’s energy requirements in what is South Africa’s best public-private partnership of infrastructure assets to date.

Bellingham hopes that in the near future a mechanism will be in place within the REIPPP program to share grid upgrade costs across multiple projects at bid phase and thus enable a project evaluation process that results in the faster deployment of lowest-cost clean energy mix for the country.

“Wind energy ticks many boxes when considered as a clean energy solution in South Africa:  most projects now produce an energy tariff below Eskom’s blended wholesale (Megaflex) rate, repay their carbon footprint within a year and have a high number of jobs per megawatt.”

As announced yesterday during the annual Windaba conference currently underway in Cape Town, 15% of wind energy generated during the past 6 months has occurred during peak electricity consumption hours of the day – which is a much higher value electricity than the otherwise ‘baseload’ electricity.

South Africa has some of the best wind sites available in the world, with the Cape provinces providing the highest sources of consistent wind in SA.