In the global rankings of gas consumption, very few African countries feature in the top 50. Egypt is the world’s 18th biggest consumer of natural gas, Nigeria is 41st and South Africa 70th.
It’s an important metric, as natural gas is the best way to fuel economic growth. It burns cleaner than coal, and is cheaper than oil.
Gas-fired power stations are quick and cheap to build, and can be easily powered up and down.
This makes them ideal to respond quickly to a country’s energy load requirements. Surplus gas can be diverted to other uses: industrial furnaces, industrial heating, domestic supply, and feedstock for fertiliser.
SA gas industry gets necessary promotion
The Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) recent launch of a Gas Industrialisation Unit (GIU) to promote gas-based industrialisation is a timely intervention.
Its strategy is to anchor gas demand through the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Gas to Power IPP Procurement Programme.
The DoE’s Gas IPP Programme has earmarked an initial 3,126MW of power from gas. A further 600MW is being sought from a strategic partner to work with a state-owned company (SOC).
Government planning and policy is lined up behind gas, and implementation of gas to power will be enabled with private sector expertise, technology and investment.
The combined 3,726MW gives substance to the notion that, as a significant employment and economic multiplier, gas should be a spine of South Africa’s industrial strategy.
Another major thrust of Government is that a policy of strategic sourcing (such as localisation and beneficiation) can move the country up the industrial value chain.
By building local expertise and capabilities in the gas industry South Africa could position itself as an African gas leader, ready to take advantage of the continent’s discovery and adoption of gas.
Eskom’s two major OCGT (open cycle gas turbine) plants, Ankerlig (1,327MW) and Gourikwa (740MW), were built by Siemens – a successful example of combining global technology with local skills. And Siemens’ technology enables a further 31,000MW of South Africa’s overall energy supply.
One advantage of coming to the gas game late is that South Africa has the opportunity to leap-frog directly to cutting-edge, proven technologies that offer exceptional efficiency. The recently commissioned Siemens-built power station in Düsseldorf (Germany) broke three world records as the most efficient and environmentally-friendly gas-fired power plant on Earth.
The facility burns natural gas and offers an overall efficiency rate – includes power and captured heat – of 85%, with CO2 emissions of only 230 grams per kilowatt-hour. In terms of electricity produced, the plant achieved 61.5 % net power-generating efficiency, bettering the previous record of 60.75% – also held by Siemens.
Selecting the most suitable partners
Government will have to weigh up different partnership models for its gas initiatives. The aim is to leverage the best global technology, and yet ensure skills are passed on to local companies.
Having the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) as the partner offers distinct advantages. The OEM has skin in the game, and its contribution can make up as much as 70% of the project.
This reduces the complexity of integrating disparate contractors, and offers security in terms of performance and maintenance.
This model has been proved on multiple projects, integrating and optimising the whole plant, and setting the best configuration for water supply and heat rate, given local conditions. Siemens is one of the pioneers of industrial gas turbines, which is the heart of a power plant.
Selecting optimal equipment
Choices will also need to be made around the class of power station.
Bigger units offer greater efficiency, but are less efficient for mid-merit load (load following). And the reverse is true for smaller units.
Seventy-seven units of the Siemens’ H Class (its biggest unit) have been sold worldwide, and each one has proven bankable and insurable. The H Class is air-cooled, which is somewhat unusual for a unit of its size. The advantage is that it’s simpler and easier to maintain than a steam-cooled unit.
South Africa is on the cusp of a momentous opportunity to reindustrialise on the back of gas, spurring major skills transfer and jobs growth, and positioning the country as a gas hub for the continent.