Bloomberg New Energy Finance
South Africa’s state utility, Eskom, has put the brakes on the country’s power procurement programme, putting a question mark over its future auctions for renewable energy. The auctions to date have been heralded as a great success after they attracted at least ZAR 193bn ($13.5bn) of investment and contracted capacity to help stabilise the nation’s power grid.
Since 2011, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest economy has held four auctions for renewable power producers, seeing prices for solar PV fall to some of the lowest in the world, at an average tariff of ZAR 786/MWh ($65.52). It is scheduled to hold a fifth auction later this year.
However, Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane said last week that the utility will not sign any further power purchase agreements in the government’s auction programme without further engagement on the issue. Eskom has no say over the price it is obliged to pay the winning projects, and has so far spent some ZAR 207bn ($169m) to connect Rounds 1-3 plants to the grid.
In other African news, Nigeria signed a $1.75bn deal with 14 solar companies to supply more than 1GW of electricity to the nation’s power grid, as is seeks to diversify away from fossil fuel generation. Oil and gas pipelines are increasingly susceptible to attacks by militant groups in the country’s Niger River delta, with gas generation running at less than half of its 6GW installed capacity as a result.
At 4:05 am in Abu Dhabi this morning, the world’s first airplane to fly around the world powered entirely by solar energy touched down after completing a 16-month multi-stage journey of more than 43,000km. Solar Impulse, a pioneering project led by Bertrand Piccard, a hot-air balloon explorer, and Andre Borschberg, a former Swiss Air Force pilot, has developed more efficient solar panels and batteries than those currently found on the market, Borschberg told Bloomberg New Energy Finance in an interview.
Moving further north, lawmakers announced that the UK’s decision to ban subsidies for onshore wind could leave a GBP 3bn ($3.9bn) dent in the Scottish economy. The onshore wind industry supports 21,000 jobs in the country, bringing in more than GBP 1bn of annual investment and supplying as much as 60% of the UK’s onshore wind capacity. The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee asked that the UK government improve consultation on any future changes it makes surrounding renewable energy, largely in view of Scotland’s target to generate 100% of its energy from renewables by 2020.
Meanwhile, employment in Britain’s solar industry contracted a third over the past year, with some 12,500 people losing their jobs, as a result of the UK government’s decision to curtail support, according to a report by the Solar Trade Association. The government ended the Renewable Obligation Certificate subsidy program on 1 April for all solar farms.
In other news, the US government pledged $4.5bn to build electric car charging stations, in a bid to promote consumer acceptance of low-carbon technology. By 2020, the administration aims to complete a coast-to-coast network of fast charging stations, while local governments will be encouraged to buy electric cars for their fleets.
Elon Musk unveiled his long-awaited, second “master plan” on the blog of his company Tesla Motors last week, outlining a vision for how the electric car company will develop into the next decade. Freight trucks and re-imagined buses are “both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year,” while development in self-driving technology will allow drivers to “summon [their] Tesla from pretty much anywhere,” Musk said in his blog.
However, “Musk’s latest master plan reads more like a wish list than anything near executable in the medium term, given the company’s balance sheet and current free cash flow,” said an advanced transport analyst at BNEF. Tesla lost $2bn in the last year of operation and will be facing competition from the likes of Proterra and BYD in the realm of electric buses – two incumbents backed by investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Berkshire Hathaway.