HomeRegional NewsAfricaNew decade: Will thermal drown in the wake of clean power?

New decade: Will thermal drown in the wake of clean power?

During the early days of the electricity supply industry, thermal power ruled the global generation technology mix.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2020.
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It was reliable, robust and cheap. But that thermal power dominance is ending. Over the past decade, the dramatic growth (of more than 16% a year) in the global consumption of electricity from renewable sources – such as solar photovoltaic and wind – took hold.

The switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy alternatives and the electrification of energy are critical elements in delivering carbon-neutral economies. This energy makeover places stress on the utility market.

In the face of multiple challenges from increasing amounts of intermittent, variable renewable generation potentially impacting system stability, utilities can’t lose sight of minimising costs and maximising performance (see page 52).

Moreover, the concern, as raised by IRENA’s Dolf Gielen and Emanuele Taibi in their blog post Hydrogen’s future: reducing costs, finding markets, is that the reported 16% growth of renewable technologies is not sufficient to stay the tide of climate change.

Even if half of all final consumption was electrified, the other half – including heavy trucks, much of the heating sector and energy-intensive industries such as iron and steel – remains overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels.

This bold message from IRENA led to the Clean Power focus for this edition of ESI Africa. The clean power conversation is usually a heated one as it covers several interlinking themes.

These include the virtues of renewables over coal and nuclear; the readiness of markets for e-mobility; the lack of development on the storage front; and the financial and operational viability of lesser-known clean actors such as tidal wave and green hydrogen.

In this regard, it is battery storage that will represent the most feasible alternative to fossil fuels in transportation sectors and be an essential way to balance the intermittency of wind and solar photovoltaic generation (page 46).

According to Kaloyan Dimov, CEO of Solar MD, storage is the game-changer that will shift the use of energy out of peak times, and has applications in congestion optimisation, capacity firming, and voltage and frequency optimisation (see page 38).

The lack of storage hasn’t dampened the formidable growth of solar in African markets where innovation is a necessary factor for sustainable success. A testament to this is a solar manufacturer in the clean power race, JinkoSolar, who has delivered 55GW till the end of 2019, to more than 3,500 customers in 140 countries (see page 34).

An inspirational story from Guled Wiliq, the CEO and founder of Power Offgrid, shows how solar innovation has changed lives. Wiliq believes that investing in smart, diversified, and hybrid energy solutions – such as pay-as-you-go and barter solutions – is imperative (see page 24).

Even as electricity access remains a fundamental issue for developing countries, attention also needs to be paid to the reliability of supply and the operations of the utilities tasked with the day-to-day delivery of on-grid electricity.

It’s in this sphere of the market where nuclear (page 16) and coal-fired power (pages 18-20) currently come into play. These thermal power technologies are feeling the heat from clean power developments and the question is how they will fare in the decade ahead. ESI

Until the next edition.

What’s in store for the next edition?

As the official media partner to African Utility Week & POWERGEN Africa, Issue 2 2020 of the journal will cover exclusive interviews and industry analysis from the conference’s expert speakers and advisory board on trending themes and solutions for the energy, power, water and smart city industries.

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Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.