After the election of South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela in 1994, it was decided to commemorate a national day of unity, which remembers and highlights all the men and women who contributed towards the dismantling of apartheid and diversifying the country: Heritage day – celebrated on 24 September every year.
The transformation of the power sector has followed a similar path to the country’s transformation. State-owned power utility Eskom and government have acknowledged that in order to provide the best for its nation, they need to collaborate and integrate the private sector in developing clean power technologies.
With financial resources rapidly depleting and ailing infrastructure needing consistent upgrading, the utility has been challenged in successfully meet the growing energy demands of the country.
Renewable energy is fast becoming an intrinsic part of the country’s energy mix, with the Department of Energy driving advancement of the sector through the development of programmes such as the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) since 2011.
The REIPPP programme has connected 37 (majority wind and solar) projects, procuring 5,243MW of power in bid windows 1-4, of which 1,827MW is already supplying clean power to the national electricity grid. In April 2015, Energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced an additional 13 projects that will contribute an added 1,084MW to the grid in what has become known as bid round 4.5.
In further attempts to meet long-term electricity demand, the South African government is in the process of finalising a rather contentious generation expansion plan—powered by nuclear.
Earlier this year, the Department of Energy announced it is ready to begin the nuclear procurement programme during the second half of 2015. It has been estimated it will cost between ZAR400 billion and ZAR1 trillion ($32 billion to $81 billion) to build six nuclear power plants.
Another potential, promising and less contentious resource is natural gas. Earlier this year, Frost & Sullivan released an analysis report ‘Mozambican Gas Sector: Major Opportunities Across Multiple Industries’, which identified Mozambique as having the potential to become the liquefied natural gas (LNG) regional export hub. This is driven by the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Eni SpA striving to meet all the conditions necessary to reach a final investment decision by the end of 2015 or early 2016 for a floating liquefied natural gas project.
The REIPPP programme and other generation development programmes, have not only accelerated the development of generation capacity but they have played a large role in alleviating poverty and reducing CO2 emissions in surrounding communities.
Diversification brings community benefits
“Across all bid rounds to date, a total contribution of ZAR19.1 billion ($1.52 billion) has been committed to socio-economic development (to be spent over the 20-year lifespan of the projects) as well as ZAR6 billion ($480 million) to enterprise development initiatives,” the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC) said, specifically addressing the contribution of renewables.
Acknowledging to South Africa’s role in global power, the REIPPP programme has created both temporary and permanent jobs for locals within a 50km radius of the project, across the construction, operation and maintenance phases.
In a WWF report, “summarising the financial commitments of projects in the first three rounds [of REIPPPP] for SED, ED and local ownership, a total of ZAR1.17 billion ($73,025,187) is allocated towards local economic development investments in communities around projects. This is generated and will be available over the next 20 years.”
Another dynamic and multi-faceted project, the Giant Flag, was launched in the Camdeboo region in the Karoo, as a solution to combating poverty and unemployment. The innovator behind this project is green activist Guy Lieberman, who identified a gap in the market for an innovative way to encourage tourism, job creation and positive economic development.
The green initiative will feature a giant South African flag made up of 2.5 million Karoo succulents and will extend to include a conference and tourism precinct as well as a 4MW solar panel field.
The South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC), which will be taking place from 4-7 October 2015, has established a platform for international industry players to gather and discuss “experiences and solutions to accelerate the global scale-up of renewable energy”.
It is important to highlight and share the failures and successes to ensure that every effort is made to continue to improve and advance the South African power sector. Climate change and scarcity of resources is a reality, which leaves no room for being reactive, we have to join together and be active in combating the effects of climate change. Alternative power solutions are key in universal energy security and South Africa can be proud to be a part of making a change in the global society.