A key revision outlined in South Africa’s draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) revision (Update report 2013), is the proposed substantial increase in solar renewable energy capacity, both photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP).

The draft IRP revision proposes that the PV allocation be increased by 1,330 MW, while CSP allocation, which to date has only been given a low MW capacity, be increased by a substantial 2,100 MW.  The increased solar energy allocation, if implemented, would contribute to alleviating the country’s inconsistent, unreliable power supply; argue members of engineering and management group EES. They say, it would also lead to a number of very positive spin-offs and benefits, which would help overcome other challenges confronting South Africa.

These spin-offs and benefits would be:

  • Socio-economic development in the form of
  • Local content manufacturing, and
  • Local job creation
  • Green energy.

“The proposed increased capacity would enhance socio-economic development. This would be in the form of local content manufacturing and job creation. Job creation would in particular take the form of employment of people from local communities,” Bradley Hemphill, managing director of EES, an ISO 9001:2008 professional engineering and management company, which has played a significant role in the implementation of solar renewable energy in South Africa to date, says.

The closing date for comments on the draft from renewable energy industry players was 7th of February 2014. The comments received are currently being used to compile a final draft to be submitted to Cabinet in March 2014.  Following Cabinet endorsement, the approved document will be promulgated.

In addition to the solar revisions, the combination of revisions under the new IRP which are finally accepted and implemented will steer the course of the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement (REIPPP) programme going forward.  The REIPPP is part of South Africa’s national strategy to introduce up to 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030. With the addition of the 17 projects in the third bidding round, South Africa now has 64 approved REIPPP projects with a collective capacity of 3,933 MW.

When the REIPPP programme was first conceptualized, one of the key objectives was to promote the development of local content in manufacturing industries. Today local manufacturing is a legal requirement stipulated by the REIPPP programme. All Independent Power Producers (IPPs) must meet specific targets for local content, preferential procurement and enterprise development.

Commenting on this James Ricketts, project manager for EES, says: “There has been an increase in local content targets in each round of the REIPPP programme. In the first round the local content requirement for CSP was 21%. In the third round this was raised to as much as 40%.”

Ricketts continues: “Integral to increased solar allocation will be the construction of many more plants, and this would mobilise local manufacturing.”

Increased solar capacity would develop new businesses and propel existing businesses providing goods and services to the sector, throughout industry value supply chains. There is also the prospect in future of exporting technology, equipment, skills and expertise as solar renewable energy programmes in the rest of the continent gain momentum.

With regard to job creation and social upliftment, all IPPs must meet specific targets for employment, ownership, and black people in top management, and it is compulsory for renewable energy equity projects to include local communities. “The IRP draft revision’s solar renewable energy proposals, if promulgated, would dramatically increase the employment of local people, both skilled and unskilled, and provide the opportunity to create new jobs through small start-up businesses and expansion of established businesses,” Ricketts says.

Community participation requirements include job creation for citizens from local communities; ownership in the project company by black people and local communities; and development of emerging enterprises located in the communities.

These requirements are already being put into practice.  A case in point is that of South Africa’s first solar tower, the 50 MW Khi Solar One, and the 100 MW parabolic trough plant, KaXu Solar One, in the Northern Cape.  Khi Solar One is complete, while KaXu Solar One is still under construction. It is reported that between the two plants, more than 1,400 local construction jobs and 70 permanent operational jobs have been created.

According to the SA Solar Energy Technology Roadmap (SETR) draft (October 2013): “As South Africa is one of the leading carbon emitting nations in the world, increasing the solar energy content within the national energy mix will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the country.

“South Africa has made a number of international commitments to reduce its carbon emissions.  For example, under the agreement in the Copenhagen Accord (2009), the country committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 34% below its ‘business-as-usual’ growth trajectory by 2020.  It is also committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2000), which target environmental sustainability,” Ricketts says. “In South Africa the mandate for a green economy derives from the country’s constitution and the country has a number of policies in place to implement the green economy. The National Development Plan (NDP), for example, is very specific about goals and a key focus is on energy and carbon, because greenhouse emissions are expected to peak in 2025.

“The National Planning Committee presented the NDP to South Africa in November 2011.  The NDP’s main focus was reportedly reducing the country’s carbon emissions to a sustainable level by adopting adaptation and mitigation policies.”

“The implementation of the increased allocations is a move to be wholeheartedly encouraged and supported. The REIPPP programme has been lauded globally as a South African success story.  There is no reason why increased solar renewable energy allocation should not in the same vein be successfully implemented,” Hemphill contends.

Ricketts concludes: “The revised allocations would demonstrate government’s long-term commitment and vision for solar renewable energy, both for PV and in particular for CSP.  Promulgation of the proposals would generate increased confidence amongst industry players, and fast track further implementation of solar renewable energy going forward to the benefit of South Africa as a whole.”

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