by Shannon Manuel

Energy 2030: Wind energy steps up to the plate

With over fifteen years as a senior practitioner in the Southern African Development, Education and Energy policy sectors, Brenda Martin is the perfect leader to bring her expertise as CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association discusses renewable energy


Selected for the position in October last year, she explains that it has been quite exciting taking on such a dynamic industry.

“I often find that from Monday to Friday, things change so radically in this industry and it’s quite a sharp turnaround on events within an industry which is quite critical to the economy. It’s a very contested industry from many directions. Labour is concerned, and rightly so, with job losses in the coal industry, and we have incumbency interests in the coal industry, which is concerned about its market share and value eroding. Renewables are very competitive on price and you have a very different industry compared to other utility industries,” she says.

The national renewable energy target is for 18 800MW to be supplied by renewable energy by 2030. Projects covered by the programme are onshore wind, solar photovoltaic, concentrated solar power and others such as biomass, landfill gas, small hydropower and biogas. Martin explains that to get to the figures for 2030, a lot needs to be built between now and then.

“There are two ministerial determinations that haven’t been procured for yet. In terms of the IRP, we are about halfway on what should be realised by 2030 and we are running out of time to achieve those objectives. There are concerns around if we need this power, issues of oversupply and so on, but one can never, when you’re talking about national planning, take a short-term approach. You have to be thinking in advance and, in the case of this power, it will be commissioned in 18 months to two years. Who knows where we will be at that point—if we look back to two years ago, where were we at that point? Two years ago, we felt we needed to step up our generation, so it’s not very wise to make these short-term decisions,” Martin says.

Local beneficiation

In terms of local beneficiation, she explains that the Department of Energy produces quarterly reports according to the rules and what it is that needs to be realised and that the local content rules are quite stringent on this industry. “The industry has actually met and exceeded its mandate and achieved about 127% more than what was required. However, we can take it further. For example, in the beginning, there were no local tower manufacturers but now there are two tower manufacturing companies. One has been at risk of closing its doors with the delay, another has gone through a process of business rescue and is now on its feet again, but you’ve got the potential to have turbines manufactured locally, that hasn’t even started yet. And we are capable of producing it from start to finish locally. We’ve got all the rare earth minerals for the magnets and the capacity and capability to deliver, but what is needed for all of that is steady orders and you can’t have steady orders if there’s a policy delay,” she says.

When it comes to policy delay, she explains that the main stumbling blocks seem to be political will. “Although we’ve had the President say this should happen, Eskom should sign these PPAs, we’ve had the previous Minister of Energy setting a date and insisting that Eskom should come ready to sign on that date. The cabinet reshuffle undid all of that. The new Minister has said she wants to understand things and she is not hurrying to the table for signatures to happen. So, at the moment, my sense is that there is movement and we’ve definitely got an indication of how parts of the government like Trade and Industry, Treasury and even public enterprises and economic development are aware of the investment risks associated with ongoing delay. So I’m seeing progress there—those parties are aware of the urgency, however, I’m not seeing much light at the end of the tunnel in terms of a sense of urgency from any other part of the government,” she says.

Since its initiation in 2012, the programme has been instrumental in attracting significant foreign and domestic investment. The REI4P has been uniquely successful too due to its social and environmental elements. Of the approximately R201.8-billion investment attracted to date, 25% of this is made up of foreign direct investments. The balance is made up of domestic investments. The delayed projects, up to around 4.5 have an investment value of R58 billion. The programme also recognises and supports South Africa’s developmental objectives and priorities by making opportunities available to local communities and economies. By the end of Round 3.5, the programme had distributed R472.6-million to SED and ED initiatives. To date, over 26 000 jobs were created during the construction phase and over 3 000 jobs were created in operations (IPPO, 2016). The delayed projects have committed to creating over 15 000 jobs. IPPs have generally exceeded their job creation commitments by 27% (IPPO, 2016).

Roaring success

Martin explains that the success rate of wind has been excellent; the list of successful initiatives, including Caledon, Jeffreys Bay and Porterville, has become quite extensive.

“The Department of Energy has this real-time data that they collate on and the CSIR did a 2016 assessment and the results were fantastic. They had capacity factors of 35% for wind, which is world-class. You get that in two, maybe three other countries in the world. Germany gets around 18/20%, so we’re really doing well on the outputs. And working in this sync with PV, when you’ve got the solar coming in at different times of the day and wind working at night and early in the morning when solar can’t.

“It’s not really just about thinking about what one individual technology can do but what happens when you have this harmony of systems working across 24 hours, and you’ve taken into account that you have the country-spread and you’ve got different access to the national grid,” says Martin.

“There’s so much you could do and there’s also the potential for gas in renewables. It really comes down to vision and the capacity of the planner to look at this and say, ‘what is the best that we can do with what we have?’ You’ve got a very good wind uptake in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, Northern Cape is mostly solar but there’s quite a significant share of wind. In fact, the second largest province for wind is the Northern Cape. And then you have those co-benefits you know, the fact that you have these rural areas that are uplifted and so on, but on the generation side, we have fantastic numbers on what is coming through from CSP, solar and wind.

“Environmentally, you’ve got both emissions reduction, plus low water use. Those are the two big things when it comes to renewable power and wind is the best in terms of water use. It doesn’t need to have the kind of cleaning facilities that you do with PV and with other plants but the major thing is that there needs to be a commitment to the value chain of what renewables can provide.

“If you look at any of these technologies in terms of the value chain, you see possibilities for job creation and co-benefits for ensuring that there are new export markets. There are so many ways in which we could be thriving. In 2015, 85% of South Africa’s foreign direct investment was allocated to the renewables industry and that says that this is one of the few industries that is still producing and making a positive contribution to our economy. And it also has a massive growth potential,” she explains.

Exceeding bid commitments by 27%, IPPs have created 29 888 job years for South African citizens, 91% of employment opportunities have been created during the construction phase and the remaining 9% in operations. Of the jobs created, 47% were for the youth and 10% were for women. Women occupy over 30% of senior management positions in construction and operations. As the renewable industry is still relatively new, it cannot claim to be in a position to make up for all the job losses associated with the transition away from a long-standing coal-dominant economy.

It can, however, contribute to the provision of new opportunities for employment. As the industry matures and the value chain grows, the job creation potential can expand accordingly. Planning for the transition is an important part of achieving the full potential of transition. It is critical that the commitment to achieving a low carbon, job-creating future is clear at the level of national leadership, so that all the necessary actions can be supported fully by the government and the many opportunities enabled.

“People talk about the abundant coal resources and the abundant gold and uranium, however, those are underground and it’s difficult to get to them. We have as much as we need above ground with so much less intrusion and extraction that needs to happen and I think that the developmental challenges are real. We have to make sure that people’s jobs are okay, that people can find employment and that employment, in fact, grows. At the very least, we should ensure that we have affordable tariffs, so that people can take care of their own development and those kinds of things are all more achievable with a mix of power and with a mix of power that is not taking us in the direction of higher tariffs,” Martin says.

By the end of 2015, the tariff for utility scale Wind and Solar PV was R0.62c/kWh. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) stood at R3.09/kWh. The tariff for baseload coal IPPs in 2016 was R1.03 R/kWh. In Rounds 1-3 of REI4P, RE prices were significantly higher than in Rounds 4 and onward. These dropped approximately 68% within four years (IPPO market overview, Sept 2016).

Reactions from communities have varied with some people saying that wind and solar farms change the landscape. Most of the communities where farms are situated are in rural areas and, in fact, there’s a comprehensive environmental impact assessment process and where communities have realised the benefits that can accrue to them directly, they’ve been very supportive.

“I think where communities are less interested is when they don’t make that connection, or where they don’t need it—where they’re wealthy enough or they’re doing okay and they don’t need to be concerned about additional income streams. For instance, in the Eastern Cape, you’ve got black landowners who are seeing a direct revenue benefit for the turbines that will be placed on the land and in practice with programmes already implemented. There’s one, which is delayed and it’s in the Ciskei, and there’s a community that’s meant to earn a revenue on the turbines being placed on their land but they’re just not seeing that revenue as a result of this delay.

“Currently, most of the plans to resurrect wind farms are focused within South Africa, however, there are plans within the next two years for a rapid uptake, especially in East Africa,” explains Martin.

“The renewables industry is young and vibrant. The people who make it up mimic its nuance and its innovation and there’s a spread, which is different and youthful, so I find that I don’t encounter the same kind of characters as I would when I go to typical energy industry events. It is very exciting and it’s especially so, given my own interest in development and in working with young people and creating opportunities. I’ve been particularly keen to open up those opportunities for young people and women in this industry,” she adds.

Skills development

In line with her vision, SAWEA has recently launched The WindAc Africa Mentoring Programme to promote the professional and personal development of youth who are interested in pursuing careers in the energy sector.

The programme will proactively address issues of gender and transformation in the wind sector by connecting both female and male students with exclusively female mentors.

“Transformation of the four-year-old SA renewable sector requires specific programmes focused on actively addressing the value chain within renewable power. This programme aims to contribute to the work of changing the leadership of the industry over time. It is part of SAWEA’s commitment to actively work to drive the transformation agenda within the renewables industry,” explains Martin.

The structure of the mentoring programme includes matching mentors with mentees, establishing mutual commitments of time, and ongoing advisory and guidance role. The first cohort of mentors and mentees will be announced at the WindAc conference, taking place on 14 and 15 November in Cape Town.

Shannon Manuel

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