The development of the programme was not without problems, and adjustments and
changes had to be made to adapt to the rapidly changing technology and market
conditions before the first round of bidding commenced, but subsequent rounds have shown that we are heading in the right direction.
The program has not been without its critics.
Criticism has been received from some sectors that the programme does not go far enough and fast enough, and from others that renewable energy is unreliable and expensive.
The prime criteria for the integrated power plan are security of supply and affordability of power. Utility scale renewable power generation is a new field for South Africa
and we need to proceed cautiously, and to assure that RE is integrated into the network
in an orderly and well managed manner. We are learning as we go along and can look forward to a generation mix which ensures that security of supply is not affected by the vagaries of nature, and that electricity will remain an affordable commodity.
The first window involves mainly wind and solar PV, as well as a small amount of CSP.
Wind energy is no stranger to this country and has been used on by small scale systems for
water pumping and electricity generation for many years. We have seen a few pilot wind farms in operation in the Western cape in the past decades, which have demonstrated the viability of wind generation, but we are now
going to see some serious wind farms. Industry has not been shy in supporting the wind program, and many companies are already involved in the supply and manufacture of
components for this sector.
Solar PV has been in use on small off-grid and telecommunications systems for many years.
We have had solar PV assembly plants in this country for many years, most of which started as small labour intensive manual assembly operations. Some have survived, others have come and gone depending on demand
from the market. The assembly of solar panels has evolved from these small enterprises to highly mechanised processes today, and we have plants in the country today capable of assembling panels to meet the requirements of this area. Not only do we have plants in existence, but there are plans to establish
several more. These plants will not only serve the REIPPP projects in South Africa, but feed the growth of private solar power systems in this country and neighbouring states.
Experience gained in the installation and construction of solar farms and wind parks by local subcontractors’ and SMEs will assist with the growth of renewable energies in these areas, and there is an industry growth outside
of the DoE official program which can benefit from the skills gained.
In the coming months we are likely to be bombarded with images of wind turbines turning and solar panels spread out in the veld, as the projects progress. None of these, however, will be able to deliver a single Megawatt until they are connected to the grid. This is apart of the program which is generally overlooked by the public,
but which has probably involved as much planning and design as the renewable energy plant itself.
Grid connections are critical to the success of the project, as the variable source of electricity cannot be allowed to adversely affect the grid, and must itself be impervious to adverse conditions on the grid. Connection of a significant amount of renewable energy generation capacity will, in the long run, require extensive strengthening
and modification of the grid, but the first phase has been restricted to projects which can be connected without any changes to the existing grid. This has nonetheless required a huge amount of design work and planning on the part of consultants, and the construction of the many kilometres of transmission line required will involve many local contractors and subcontractors. In addition a large portion of the material used will come from local sources.
The run up to the start of the first phase has seen the establishment of many industries all
keen to supply equipment and services to the program, and many more have come into the market since the first power purchase agreements were signed. As a country we have the skills and facilities to manufacture and supply much of the material and components necessary for the program. It is encouraging to see that the first projects
are not all concentrated in one part of the country, but are spread fairly evenly around. This shows that renewable energy resources can be tapped in most parts of the country and not only at specific sites, as is the case for
fossil fuels. This also means skills development and support industries are not focused in
one area.It is encouraging to see that the programme has created such an interest in renewable energy and expect that the growth of the industry as well as skills levels will result in increased use of RE as an energy source in own generation and off grid systems as well.
We have one of the best solar resources in the world and a wealth of other renewable sources of energy. It is time that we make full use of these.܀