SA transforming into a renewable energy hub

South Africa is quickly becoming a favored renewable energy investment place to go for both private and public sector investors – best news for the country’s escalating electricity requirements, emerging clean energy sector and the overall economy.

The World Bank not too long ago authorized a $250-million (R1.5- billion) loan to South African power utility Eskom in order to develop a wind and solar plant, that can assist the nation to lower its reliance on coal-based power generation.

The World Bank, which approved the financing via its Clean Technology Fund, will finance a 100-megawatt solar power plant in Upington in the Northern Cape province as well as a 100-megawatt wind power project north of Cape Town in the Western Cape.




Leading clean energy projects in Africa

The financial loan will make it possible for Eskom to construct two of the biggest renewable energy projects ever tried on the African continent.

Ebrahim Khan from Wesgro, the Western Cape Investment and Trade Promotion Agency, welcomed the World Bank’s investment into the renewable energy sector.

“These investment strategies are a breath of fresh air and it demonstrates that South Africa is no longer just talking about renewable energy,” Khan said.

“The best part about it for South Africa is the fact that there are serious goals and objectives to get our energy mix right and there are definitely more renewable energy power projects in the pipeline which are to be backed by private investors,” he added.




Key investment areas

He said that the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape Provinces have already been identified as the key regions to create renewable energy plants, in particular wind and solar.

“Many individuals don’t are aware that the Northern area of the Western Cape has higher irradiation compared to best locations in Spain and the State of California,” he explained.

In the Western Cape, financial investment is predominantly into wind and photovoltaic (PV) solar power. PV solar-power generation transforms solar radiation to electricity as a result of static panels.

He said that photovoltaics is the primary type of solar technology which is used widely on a commercial scale in other regions around the world.

The Northern Cape has been recognized as the most effective area for concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, which makes use of mirrors or lenses to concentrate a significant area of sunlight, or solar thermal energy onto a small area, typically with rotating panels.


Wesgro estimates that about 40% to 50% of the 1 850 wind technology projects and 30% to 40% of the 1 450 PV projects will come to the Western Cape.

As outlined by Wesgro, wind resources in the Western Cape are significant and possibly the best in the country.

“We are going for renewable energy in a big way,” he said.

Khan stated that South Africa possesses the potential to turn into a major player in the clean energy sector, with considerable interest being displayed by investors during the past couple of months.

Wesgro in addition has hosted many delegations who would like to be involved in the renewable energy sector. “The majority of of these companies are big players,” he said.

Scientific studies are still under way into ocean and wave technology, which could also be employed to generate energy.

“There are universities in the province which have been working on innovations with ocean and wave technologies, however the models have not been completely figured out yet,” Khan added.



Construction to start in 2012

Eskom is in the process of building and upgrading established coal-fired power plants in order to meet South Africa’s immediate energy needs, however it would like to broaden the energy mix toward cleaner sources of energy.

A year ago the World Bank received criticism for approving a $3.75-billion (R29.3 billion) loan for the creation of a coal-fired plant in South Africa, but Eskom explained the project was required to address the country’s chronic power shortages.

Eskom anticipates that the construction of the 100-megawatt wind power project north of Cape Town will commence at the start of 2012.


Possibilities for manufacturing

Khan stated that there are excellent possibilities to set up a manufacturing sector focused entirely on parts and components for the renewable energy sector.

In the wind energy sector, European companies have already been searching for suitable sites to set up plants to manufacture components including blades for wind turbines, because they are incredibly cumbersome to transport.

Wind power company Isivunguvungu Wind Energy Converter (I-WEC) has identified Cape Town as its base to produce Africa’s first multi-megawatt wind turbines.

Cape Business News reports that a large 42-ton mould, which a short while ago arrived at Table Bay Harbour from China, will be utilized to manufacture 50m-long rotor blades for the 2.5MW turbines. This surpasses the span of an Airbus wing.



The company intends to commence production on its first turbine right away, in time to set up the final product in Saldanha, northwest of Cape Town, early next year.

As outlined by I-WEC, the new 2.5MW turbines are nearly twice the size and capacity of the 1.3MW turbines currently utilized in South Africa.

Each turbine has the ability to supply enough electrical power to run approximately 2 000 average South African households for a year.

I-WEC is in addition the very first South African and African company that can manufacture the multi-megawatt wind turbines locally, making use of local labour. Up to 70% of the turbines’ components are going to be produced in South Africa.



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