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Technical innovation is speeding up the renewable energy revolution

The wind and solar parks now spreading over the vast spaces of the Northern Cape indicate that renewable energy has well and truly arrived.

Sector overview: Renewable Energy – Northern Cape Province, South Africa

The renewable energy revolution is speeding up. In recent months, landmarks such as the start of commercial operations by the 100 MW Kathu Solar Park and the reaching of financial closure of the 147 MW Roggeveld Wind Farm mark what can be described as the first phase of the coming of renewable energy to South Africa.

In less than a decade, an entirely new sector has been created through legislation that invited local and foreign investors to bid for and then build renewable energy generation plants. South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) requires 20 000 MW of renewable energy by 2030. That will be achieved mainly through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

The wind and solar parks now spreading over the vast spaces of the Northern Cape indicate that renewable energy has well and truly arrived.

Projects such as Kathu Solar Park, a concentrating solar power (CSP) project, and the Roggeveld Wind Farm are indicative of the large scale of most of the energy generation that is being rolled out, but at Black Rock Mine solar power is being put to use on a smaller, but no less important scale. To light the intersections leading to the mine, BEKA Schréder has installed solar-powered street lights.

The 2018 signing ceremony by new Energy Minister Jeff Rabebe restarted the REIPPPP when he signed off on projects totalling R56-billion that will add 2 300 MW to the national grid. There had been a long delay in the process as national utility Eskom argued against accepting more power purchase agreements while they had a surplus. Most of South Africa’s electricity comes from coal and Eskom is building two huge coal-fired power stations.

When a group of dignitaries gathered a month after that important signing ceremony to inaugurate a solar plant that covers 300 ha in the Northern Cape, there was therefore a lot of optimism in the air. National government’s confirmation of its commitment to the REIPPPP is vital for growth. Approximately 60% of the projects so far allocated have been in the nation’s sunniest province.

Xina Solar One is located at Pofadder on the N14 between Upington and Springbok. The R9.4-billion project is a joint venture between Spanish energy firm Abengoa Solar, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and a community trust representing the local population. The plant is Abengoa’s third in the Northern Cape. Kaxu Solar One is also near Pofadder but Khi Solar One is closer to Upington. All three use concentrated solar power which reflects the sun’s rays during the day in to a molten salt storage system. The energy is then slowly released during the night. The 205 meter tower that collects the rays at the Khi Solar One site is one of the tallest structures in South Africa. The image below shows the tower at Khi Solar One.

The tower at Khi Solar One is one of South Africa’s tallest structures. (Image source: Abengoa Solar).

The Northern Cape is the natural home for the generation of solar power. Long-term annual direct normal irradiance (DNI) at Upington is 2 816 kWh/m², according to a survey done for Stellenbosch University by Slovakian company GeoModal Solar. South Africa’s national average is among the best in the world. Stellenbosch University’s Solar Thermal Energy Research Group has six sites monitoring irradiation levels.

The small towns of Postmasburg and Groblershoop lie between Upington and Kimberley. They are modest settlements which have ticked along in support of surrounding farmers with some diamond mining and wine cultivation. They are now the centre of some of the world’s most advanced technological innovation in concentrated solar power.

Saudi Arabian electricity group ACWA Power has won approval for the 100 MW Redstone project near Postmasburg and the 50 MW Bokpoort CSP plant near Groblershoop is in operation.

Large wind projects are also winning approval in the Northern Cape. The commissioning of the 100 MW De Aar Wind Power Project brings together Mulilo Renewable Energy and the China Longyuan Power Group Corporation.

Commercial operations have begun on Khobab Wind Farm and Loeriesfontein Wind Farm, collectively providing 280 MW via 61 wind turbines. The projects were developed by Lekela Power, a joint venture between Actis and Mainstream Renewable Power.

Noblesfontein Wind Farm.

Noblesfontein was one of the earliest wind farms to be constructed in the Northern Cape, about 40 km from Victoria West. Spanish company Gestamp Wind was an early investor.

The 147 MW Roggeveld Wind Farm, which has 47 Nordex wind turbines and was developed by G7 and then taken over by Building Energy, will operate commercially in the first quarter of 2021.

The support of two of South Africa’s biggest institutional investors, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), has been crucial in getting the renewable energy sector off the ground. They have also played a role in helping communities fund their participation in community trusts. According to Business Day, the PIC has so far invested in 16 unlisted projects and its total investment stands at R11-billion. The IDC’s 24 projects are valued at R14-billion and will contribute 1 100 MW to the national power grid.

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