offshore wind project
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Energy experts came together to discuss offshore wind potential being a possible answer to decarbonisation in South Africa at this year’s Windaba conference.

South Africa was one of many nations that signed an intended nationally determined contribution to commit to reducing carbon emissions, COP21. This pledge requires the country to decrease carbon emissions by over 40% by 2025, and according to the Department of Environmental Affairs, renewable energy is the most logical and feasible means of achieving this.

With this ambitious and mammoth undertaking, a number of energy experts, academics and research studies view offshore wind as the answer.

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Mercia Grimbeek, Chair of the South Africa Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), shared: “The wind market in South Africa is currently focussed on onshore wind because we have the land space available and its cost-competitive, which means almost all of our members are developing onshore wind.”

She added: “Although we don’t think we will see the first offshore development in the country until 2030, it is certainly an area worth investigating, which is why we’ve included this in our Windaba discussion. Good wind sites will be taken up during the next decade as we build 14.4GW of wind power, and this is a good prompt for investigation into offshore wind to begin now. We have seen an increased focus from academia on this topic and as an industry, we support it and look forward to the outcomes.”

Addressing delegates at the 2021 Windaba Conference, Laura Peinke, Senior International Trade Specialist – Energy (South Africa) for Scottish Development International (SDI) sees huge potential for South Africa in this untapped energy resource.

“South Africa’s coastline needs to be recognised as a valuable energy resource, but it also needs to balance environmental and marine protection. The development of offshore wind is only viable if all parties work together including national government, environmental bodies, industry bodies such as SAWEA and GWEC, and of course universities and research institutions to name a few,” said Peinke, also explaining that regulatory frameworks will need to address environmental and marine policies, and licencing requirements to ensure that South Africa’s energy infrastructure can accommodate offshore wind, amongst other considerations.

Looking at the global market, especially the UK and European countries, offshore wind is the preferred and often only option due to land ownership structures and lack of viable onshore land options, amongst other reasons.

“I think offshore wind is definitely one of the renewable sources that South Africa could include as part of a diversified energy mix but acknowledge that it is not a simple process given South Africa doesn’t have an existing focus for offshore wind. I also think one must look at the reasons for why offshore wind has taken off in international markets, apart from the obvious energy generation potential,” explains Peinke.

Potential locations for offshore wind infrastructure in South Africa

Recent research on offshore wind energy by the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University’s academics, Gordon Rae and Dr Gareth Erfort, is certainly very encouraging.  The research identifies six suitable regions for the development of offshore wind infrastructure; and indicated that deepwater turbines, could potentially satisfy the country’s annual electricity demand 8 times over. 

Commenting on the research, Peinke said, “I think the research by the University of Stellenbosch is incredibly valuable and is the first of its kind that demonstrates physical locations offshore South Africa with actual power generation potential. Up to now, a lot of the research has been speculative and although we recognise the potential for offshore wind in South Africa, tangible results allow developers and policy regulators to build on this as another contributing renewable energy resource for South Africa. Options for deep-water requirements are floating wind turbines, but a more comprehensive assessment on the meteorological and oceanographic (metocean) conditions ocean comparing specific technologies, will be necessary.

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Furthermore, there is a clear indication that there is an appetite for investment in this energy market, especially from the UK and Europe. More importantly, Peinke cites offshore wind as having the potential to provide additional economies of scale for South Africa’s manufacturing and supply chain, as well as increased employment opportunities.

Windaba is Scottish Development International’s first renewables-focused conference on the African continent, with a large delegation incorporating ten Scottish companies, joining the event.

In closing, Peinke said: “SDI believes that South Africa’s renewables sector, including wind energy, holds huge growth potential for Scottish capabilities. Our part of the world is no stranger to wind energy and has well-established research and innovation; skills and training, and supply chain companies and organisations.”