- SOLA Future Energy, 20 October 2017[Corporate PR]Read more
Cape Town, South Africa: SOLA Future Energy has succeeded in designing and constructing a solar energy microgrid for Robben Island. The system, situated on the World Heritage Site, consists of a solar PV farm, combined with a lithium-ion battery storage facility and smart controllers to ensure a seamless electricity supply, whilst significantly reducing the island’s fossil fuel consumption.
Robben Island has an energy usage profile that comprises residential needs, desalination, harbour and offices; in total, the island uses almost 2M kWh of electricity annually. Commissioned by the Department of Tourism, the solar PV project will produce almost 1M kWh of electricity annually, significantly reducing costs of buying diesel and transporting it to the island. The island is also embarking on a drive to reduce its own electrical consumption.
The microgrid consists of three power production elements. The solar PV farm consists of 1960 mono-crystalline modules with a total of 666.4 kW power supply. The battery bank, consisting of 2420 lithium-ion battery cells, is able to store 837 kWh and output a maximum of 500 kVA. The third power production element is the diesel generators, which are used when no solar or battery storage is available. Multiple controllers between these power production elements balances the power supply and creates a smart microgrid, ensuring a seamless supply of power.
“The microgrid on Robben Island is the largest combined solar and lithium-ion storage microgrid system in South Africa,” said Dom Wills, CEO of SOLA Future Energy, who were responsible for the design and construction of the project. “For Robben Island, the solar microgrid will reduce its fossil fuel consumption by 235 000 litres of diesel per annum or 50% of previous usage. This will result in a reduction the Island’s carbon emissions by at least 820 tons, and will save the island money during its 25 years of operation. The island’s microgrid is also a very good example of how non-electrically connected Africa will be powered in the next 20 years.”
The island is a world heritage site and a very sensitive area to carry out construction. Environmental and historical considerations meant that the site for the PV farm was carefully chosen. SOLA staff had to also be sent for training to handle penguins, snakes and wildlife as well as archaeological artifacts that might be discovered underground.
SOLA Future Energy believes that Africa’s future relies on affordable, clean, reliable and accessible energy. Besides financial savings, Robben Island’s transformation is symbolic: it shows that an affordable and clean energy future is possible for off grid communities. SOLA was awarded the contract by the DoT and has carried out the design and construction over the past year.
- Mott MacDonald, 17 October 2017[Corporate PR]Read more
The US$880 million Xina concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in Pofadder, South Africa has successfully completed its first month of commercial operation. Mott MacDonald performed the role of the lenders' technical advisor during the project’s financing and construction stages and will now monitor operations in an ongoing role.
Awarded during the third round of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer programme (REIPPP), the 100MW plant is expected to generate approximately 400GWh of energy per year. This will be sufficient to provide electricity to 95,000 homes, while the use of CSP will prevent the emission of 348,000 tons of CO2 annually.
As well as using parabolic trough technology with 5.5 hours of thermal energy storage, Xina also features the largest parabolic trough collector used in a commercial CSP project to date.
As lender’s technical advisor, Mott MacDonald provided technical, environmental and social due diligence prior to financial close. The consultancy then provided construction monitoring services, helping the project attain practical completion to commence operations.
Alberto Cuellar, Mott MacDonald’s project manager, said: "This is the first CSP project in South Africa that will benefit from the time of day payment structure. This tariff incentivises generation during peak demand hours and will allow the plant to capitalise on the dispatchable energy that CSP technology can offer to the grid.”
“We have worked closely with the lenders and project company during the successful delivery of this project, which provides further evidence of our world-class capability in the CSP sector. We are currently involved on all seven CSP projects awarded under REIPPP to date, either as lenders’ technical advisor or owner’s engineer and we look forward to continuing to support the development of the CSP sector in South Africa," Alberto added.
- International Energy Agency (IEA), 21 September 2017[New Report/Publication] Key World Energy Statistics contains timely, clearly presented data on the supply, transformation and consumption of all major energy sources for the main regions of the world, proving everyone with an interest in energy key statistics on more than 150 countries and regions including energy indicators, energy balances, prices, RDD and CO2 emissions as well as energy forecasts.Read more
- Assessing the impact of increasing shares of variable generation on system operations in South AfricaDeutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), 17 September 2017[New Report/Publication] A report commissioned by GIZ and prepared for the South African Department of Energy and Eskom has assessed the impact of variable generation technologies on system operation in South Africa until 2030. It discredits the notion that a high penetration of renewables will be difficult and costly to manage in the South African context, and that that high penetration of wind and solar PV can be handled by the system at moderate additional cost.Read more
- World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 14 September 2017[New Report/Publication] The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017 (WNISR2017) has just been released, providing a comprehensive overview of nuclear power plant data, including information on operation, production and construction.Read more
The WNISR assesses the status of new-build programs in current nuclear countries as well as in potential newcomer countries. The WNISR2017 edition includes a new assessment from an equity analyst view of the financial crisis of the nuclear sector and some of its biggest industrial players.
The Fukushima Status Report provides not only an update on onsite and offsite issues six years after the beginning of the catastrophe, but also the latest official and new independent cost evaluations of the disaster.
Focus chapters provide in-depth analysis of France, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Nuclear Power vs Renewable Energy chapter provides global comparative data on investment, capacity, and generation from nuclear, wind and solar energy. Finally, Annex 1 presents a country-by-country overview of all other countries operating nuclear power plants.
Download the 2017 report from the WNISR website.
- Brand Engineering, 14 September 2017[Technical Article] This article presents a technical assessment of the performance that can typically be achieved by a solar PV plant after the first year of operation. The plant in question is in South Africa's Northern Cape.Read more
The aim of this assessment is to provide a simplistic approach to determine the performance which can typically be achieved by a PV plant after a certain period of operation.
Download the article in PDF format from the Brand Engineering website.
- REN21, 14 September 2017[New Report/Publication] This looks at the interface between the tendering process and the role that communities can play in renewable energy uptake in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, and proposes a mechanism that could be used to encourage community involvement in renewable energy tendering process.Read more
- South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), 13 September 2017[Notice] Signing of the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for 27 projects under Round 3.5 and 4 bid windows of the Renewable Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), has been set for end October 2017. This much anticipated announcement, by the Department of Energy, facilitates signing of PPA’s and sees movement for the industry, which has stagnated since August 2015.Read more
In preparation for a sustainable Wind Energy market in South Africa, the Windaba conference programme will review the long-term position for the South African and African wind industry. The conference, which is the flagship event of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), continues to provide industry stakeholders with the most relevant information to assist in astute business decision-making.
Discussion Streams for 2017 will include Power Sector Reform, Transformation and the Energy Transition. Themes will be developed over the two days. Of particular interest to policy makers, lenders, investors and IPP’s will be a discussion entitled the ‘The End Game’. This session will take place under the 'Energy Transition' stream. While speakers will share current insights from market experience, the key question to addressed is: “What will the final stages of Energy Transition involve?” Industry experts will explore barriers, opportunities and the developmental objectives that should be prioritized by these stakeholders to participate effectively in one of the world’s most high-potential Wind Markets, South Africa.
- South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), 01 September 2017[Notice] The South Africa Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) welcomes the announcement by the Minister of Energy, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi, made today that the RE IPP Programme will move forward and the outstanding PPA’s for Round 3.5 and 4 will be signed on the 28th of October 2017. This will bring much needed investment, secure current jobs and manufacturing investments in the sector, and create new jobs and opportunities for communities surrounding these projects.Read more
By confirming dates for the financial close of the Round 3.5 and Round 4 projects, Government is sending out a signal that indeed, as President Zuma stated last week “South Africa is open for business”. The delays in the programme have endangered long term investor confidence, investment and more specifically job creation and retention in this market.
The signing of the PPAs will fast track the delivery of employment opportunities, local manufacturing opportunities, social development programmes and the benefits of community ownership, all of which are common features of all REIPPPP projects.
These announcements send a positive signal to the market that the Government is committed to ensuring renewable energy plays its part in the future energy mix in a manner that ensures economic transformation of the sector, and ultimately broader economic participation of South Africans in renewable energy.
SAPVIA has had the opportunity to engage with the Minister and her DoE team positively over the last month, and we welcome the forward movement in the RE IPP Programme. We are committed to working together with the department to address issues around transformation in the sector and agree that the IRP and IEP need to be concluded.
SAPVIA remains committed to engaging with the Government, Ministry and DoE in building an energy future that is participatory, transformational and that delivers benefits to the South African economy and its people.
The signing of the PPAs will fast track the delivery of employment opportunities, local manufacturing opportunities, social development programmes and the benefits of community ownership, all of which are common features of all REIPPPP projects.
- Kouga Wind Farm, 06 July 2017[Corporate PR] Not until recently had Port Elizabeth student Ayabulela Mahamba, 21, set foot outside the Eastern Cape, but a chance trip of a lifetime to a global energy summit in Mexico has seen her rub shoulders with global influencers such as former lord mayor of London Fiona Woolf and former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.Read more
Now the fate of the Aliwal North youth activist and third-year NMMU B.Com accounting student could take another turn, after being encouraged by Woolf to consider scholarship opportunities in humanitarian and development studies in the UK.
“It was exhilarating. It was my first overseas trip – and my first time out of the Eastern Cape actually!” said Mahamba, who first showed her leadership potential as head girl of Southernwood Primary in East London.
Her journey started with a serendipitous encounter with Kouga Wind Farm, which sponsored her trip to the International Student Energy Summit earlier this month. Mahamba had initially put out feelers to various energy organisations for funding her Aliwal North-based NGO for childhood development, the Mighty Walkers Foundation.
Instead of funding, her online profile scored her an unexpected invitation from summit organisers and the wind farm made the trip possible. Mahamba was just one of three South Africans to attend.
Kouga Wind Farm community liaison officer Trevor Arosi said Mahamba had impressed them with the maturity of her vision.
“What stood out for us was her sense of community responsibility and the fact that she started her own non-governmental organisation as a teenager, which is why we invested in her,” he said, adding that Mahamba is one of hundreds of local community members to have benefited from more than R6.5-million worth of education and skills development projects funded by the Oyster Bay wind farm since its inception in 2015.
These include training for bird and bat monitors, electrical apprentices and community caregivers as well as setting up a solar-powered computer lab for an Oyster Bay primary school and rebuilding a Humansdorp crèche that had burned down. Arosi said the wind farm was determined to support local youth in playing a role in the sustainable energy generation space and being developmental champions in their communities.
The summit had been life changing, said Mahamba.
“What really stood out for me were the ideas and perspectives from so many people from around the world. It really broadened my perspective and made me realise that we are not alone in the challenges we face as South Africans.”
Born in Mthatha and raised in East London, Mahamba spent her high school years in Aliwal North, where she grew concerned about the large numbers of orphaned children – some as young as six years old – who were left to wander the streets.
With her surname literally meaning “on the move”, Mahamba launched her aptly named and self-funded foundation in 2014, after saving her pocket money for two years to achieve her vision.
“Mighty Walkers aims to get these children, who are often very smart and talented, off the streets. Basically, we mentor them, try to find them schools, get them uniforms – anything that will get them into school and keep them there,” she said.
The NGO also teaches the youth about the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, such as energy and water, through observing initiatives like Earth Hour and Water Week.
“Our aim is to instil this mindset from a young age by teaching children that they need to think of future generations and be wise when it comes to the sustainable use of resources. I think if that is instilled while you’re still young, it becomes part of you, and a positive change might actually happen,” said Mahamba.
She said the Mexico summit had crystallised her vision and made her more determined to further her education in the fields of humanitarian or development studies.
“It took the summit to open my eyes to the fact that sustainable development is more than just a focus on HIV or the economy. Various aspects – like energy – have a critical role to play.”
In addition, Mahamba said women were still severely underrepresented in energy leadership worldwide and she plans to devote her own immediate efforts to a series of talks advocating for gender equality when it comes to the role of female leaders in South Africa.
“Ours is not just a supporting role. We have equal strength and ability to lead.”
WATCH: Ayabulela’s interview on SABC here.
- Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm, 16 June 2017[Corporate PR] Local schools in the Kouga municipality are once again putting their weight behind Global Wind Day using it as an opportunity to teach children more about renewable Energy and in particular how clean energy is harvested from the abundant wind.Read more
Themed ‘The Wind’, Grade 1 to Grade 3 learners from twelve local community schools are taking part in a Creative Art and Writing competition, for which learners have been incentivised to participate through prizes that include books, equipment & science goods. In addition to this the Grade 3 winners from across the 12 schools will be taken on a visit to Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm.
The twelve schools form part of a Literacy Programme that is run in partnership with the Department of Education and ITEC and is supported by the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm. This initiative was developed in consultation with the Principals Forum which meets regularly to evaluate the programme.
“We are pleased to be partaking in Global Wind Day a day when we celebrate the clean energy that the wind provides us,” said Mr Coenraad, Principal of Sea Vista Primary.
Schools that are participating in the Global Wind Day celebration include: Chigwell Primary School, Gamtoosvalley Primary School, Graslaagte Primary School, Kruisfontein Primary School, Pellsrus Primary School, Hankey Primary School, Patensie Primary School, Quagga Primary School, St Patricks EC Primary School, Vukani Primary School, Weston Primary School and Sea Vista Primary School.
“This Global Wind Day celebration, fits seamlessly into our Foundation Phase literacy programme and gives us the ideal opportunity to teach learners about the importance of clean, green energy,” added Marion Green-Thompson, Economic Development Director of Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 12 April 2017[Feature Article]Read more
A sewing workshop which supports disabled women in the rural Western Cape is an example of the kind of development project that could benefit from the revenues generated by a local wind farm, if Eskom gives the go-ahead for the power plant to be built.
When dressmaker Hetta November lost the full use of her left hand following a stroke, it did not stop the 56-year-old from doing what she knows best: sewing. Hetta heads up the Suurbraak CAPability Hand Sewn Project, through which she has trained up a group of 10 disabled women in the basics of sewing.
The group’s first consignment is to produce 450 quilted bags, made bespoke for a local conference organiser for an event this April. Through the process of getting these bags ready for their client, Hetta trained up the team of 10 women, all of whom have either a physical or intellectual disability, in the basics of preparing the fabric and stitching by hand. Once they had those mastered, she got them set up on the group’s four sewing machines.
The Suurbraak-based group, about 25km from Swellendam in the Western Cape, was started by civil society organisation CAP (the Community Action Partnership), and is the kind of development project that could receive financial support from a local wind farm that is scheduled to be built out here in the Overberg.
BioTherm Energy, an independent power company based in Johannesburg, has been given the go-ahead by the Department of Energy (DoE) to build the Excelsior Wind Farm as part of the state’s renewable energy programme. Since 2011, the DoE has approved the development of 96 mostly solar and wind power plants around the country. Half of these plants are already operational and selling power to the grid. But construction on the next 26 plants is on hold, following red-tape delays by Eskom.
Each energy firm has a contractual obligation to spend a percentage of the revenue it earns from selling power to the state, on social and enterprise development initiatives in communities living within a 50km radius of each plant. The investment commitment spans the 20-year life of the ‘power purchase agreements’ between the state and all the energy firms.
Hetta explains that the group needs assistance to buy more equipment for the workshop, such as an overlocker and a cutting table. They would also benefit from having the capital to buy material in bulk, as they’ve been using donated fabric and offcuts until now.
BioTherm’s Tulani Koom says that the company is eager to finalise which development initiatives in the area it will work with, but the process is on hold until Eskom finalises the contracts between itself and all the power companies in the DoE’s renewables initiative.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 20 March 2017[Feature Article] Owners of the small black-owned businesses that have been contracted to do the cleaning, vegetation management, and other maintenance-type work at the solar power plant outside Groblershoop in the Northern Cape, are graduating from a year-long incubation programme that aims to transform them into viable operations that serve a wider customer base. Eskom’s delays in signing contracts with some power producers at sites elsewhere in the country, jeopardises similar development initiatives.Read more
When vegetation management contractor Gloria Klaas heard that the new 50 megawatt (MW) Bokpoort concentrated solar thermal power plant outside Groblershoop, an hour south of Upington, needed a vegetation clearing crew to keep the grass beneath the rows of mirrors trimmed, she moved herself, her family, and her business to Northern Cape town and set up shop.
Her company name and title are embroidered on her blue overalls: Tlaky Project Engineer.
She and her crew of five men, all of whom she hired from within the Groblershoop community, were given the gig to control vegetation beneath the eight ‘solar fields’, where the rows of mirrors span about 4ha. They were signed into a one-year contract with ACWA Power, the Dubai-based owner of the plant.
Since she registered her company in 2007, Gloria had only ever contracted her services to state-funded projects. Signing up with ACWA Power meant getting into the private sector for the first time.
ACWA Power’s Bokpoort plant is part of the state-initiated Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme which, in 2011, started a process of commissioning private power companies to build and operate 96 renewable energy plants around the country. Part of the agreement with the state is that each company will invest a percentage of the revenue it earns from selling power to the national grid, into social and enterprise development in communities located within 50km of each plant. About 50 of these plants are already operational, and their social and enterprise development endeavours already underway, in some cases benefiting micro-businesses like Gloria’s.
However, construction is on hold for the next round of 26 plants in the REIPPP programme, owing to delays by Eskom to sign the final contracts with private power companies. While the Department of Energy has approved the plants, construction can’t begin until Eskom has finalised the price at which the state will pay for the power that is fed into the national grid. Delays in completing the plants cascades through to delays in the community development work such as that being done by ACWA Power in and around Groblershoop.
Part of Bokpoort’s enterprise development has been to take the first round of contractors and, while each business offers their services during the first year of contract, each owner is put through a year-long business incubation programme.
When the South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) met with Gloria in early March 2017, she was preparing to present her reworked business plan to ACWA management, and waiting to hear if her contract would be renewed. Of course she’d love that, she says, flashing a gilt-edged grin, but understands that the purpose of this incubation scheme is to equip her to reach a wider client base here in the Northern Cape.
Through the syllabus, Gloria and her peers on the course have touched on issues of tax and safety compliance, human resources and operations management, how to market themselves or apply for government tenders, and have been tutored in drafting business plans.
Gloria is confident that her business plan presentation will go well. In the meantime, her crew is busy clearing the grass under solar fields one and three, this week. They first did the work just by hand, using brush cutters and such, but soon realised that it was necessary to use herbicide to reduce the risk of veld fires and ensure easy access for maintenance crews.
But all of this is laid out in her revised business plan, which she will be presenting to the ACWA Power management team, in the hope that it will be a deciding factor in whether or not her contract is renewed for another year.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 20 March 2017[Feature Article]Read more
Eskom’s delays in signing the final contracts with the private companies that are scheduled to build a series of solar power plants in the Northern Cape, are throttling back development work that aims to nurture a generation of engineers and technicians and skilled professionals here. In these educational ‘backwaters’, schools are underfunded, literacy is low, and the dropout rates bleak. Intervention needs to start at kindergarten-level.
How do you create jobs out here in the desert of the far Northern Cape that are so alluring that young school leavers will return here after completing their studies in big urban centres, where the pull of the bright city lights might make their rural hometowns seem dowdy by comparison?
You need to create jobs for engineers, or plumbers, or lawyers, that are aspirational; they need to come with a good salary, a swanky car, and an air of prestige. And you need to expose school children to role models who already fill these kinds of skilled and semi-skilled positions, so that they grow up believing that they can become those themselves.
‘When you ask high school children here what they want to do when they leave school, they say they want to be teachers or nurses, or they want a job in the local municipality,’ explains energy developer BioTherm’s economic development senior associate Simphiwe Kulu, during a visit to Onseepkans, a remote settlement on the South Africa-Namibia border.
‘These are the only kinds of jobs that they get exposed to, and so they don’t believe they have a wider scope of career opportunity.’
As Kulu and his team did a needs assessment, another problem they found is that the number of school pupils who make it to grade 12 with solid science and maths competence is extremely low. Without these subjects, school leavers can’t move into the ‘trades’, such as plumbing, fitting and turning, or electrician work, let alone engineering or the hard sciences.
BioTherm is earmarked to build a 40 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic power plant in Aggeneys, a small mining town about 270km west of Upington. When the state gave their plant the go-ahead, as part of the REIPPP programme, Kulu began visiting surrounding towns, including Onseepkans, in order to see and better understand the development needs.
Once its plant becomes operational, BioTherm will have a 20-year contract to sell electricity to the state, and thus two decades in which to invest in community scale development initiatives. This, says Kulu, is the kind of time horizon that’s necessary if development workers hope to make a meaningful difference in addressing the science and maths literacy gaps.
‘By the time a youth reaches grades 10, or 12, it’s too late to address poor maths and science results,’ he explains, ‘you have to build up their abilities in the foundational years.’
Support for maths and science literacy needs to start right from kindergarten, he says.
BioTherm Energy’s Aggeneys plant is one of 96 renewable power plants that are being commissioned by the Department of Energy’s utility scale renewable energy programme. About 50 of these plants are already operational and selling electricity to the grid. Part of each firm’s agreement with the state is that they will invest a percentage of their revenue in local community development work. Those that are already operational are already doing such work.
But construction is on hold for the next 26 plants, one of which is BioTherm’s Aggeneys plant, owing to delays by Eskom to finalise the contracts with these firms that stipulate the price that the state utility will pay for the electricity generated by each plant. As long as the delays continue, the kind of community development work which companies like BioTherm plan for their regions is similarly delayed.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 14 March 2017[Feature Article]Read more
Eskom’s delays in signing the final contracts with the private companies that are scheduled to build a series of solar power plants in the Northern Cape, are throttling back development work that aims to nurture a generation of engineers and technicians and skilled professionals here. In these educational ‘backwaters’, schools are underfunded, literacy is low, and the dropout rates bleak. Intervention needs to start at kindergarten-level.
Wanted: technically-minded school-leavers with maths and science as their subjects.
That was the gist of the call for applicants that was circulated in and around the small town of Groblershoop, in the Northern Cape, last year.
The 50 megawatt Bokpoort concentrated solar thermal power plant (CSP) had just started operations, and it needed two things: semi-skilled, locally hired solar plant operators to oversee the day-to-day running of the plant; and it needed to meet its contractual obligation to the state, which stipulates that it must invest a percentage of its revenues into addressing the local community’s development needs, including through education and training.
By recruiting the appropriate people from within a 50km radius of the plant, and training them up to be plant operators, they could hit two bulls’ eyes with one arrow.
Bokpoort CSP plant owner ACWA Power hoped to recruit 25 people for its first intake in 2016. Each needed to have a minimum of a high school qualification, with maths and science. But when applications started trickling in, the company was only able to fill 17 of the slots. And many of those were mature adults who had spent years in casual jobs or were unemployed.
This, explains ACWA Power social development manager Donald Muller - himself a former school teacher from the area - indicates how few people here have maths and science at grade 12.
During a visit to the area in March, the South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) found that this was a common theme: low general literacy levels, high dropout rates, and poor maths and science skills in a schooling system that is underfunded and under resourced.
There are several renewable energy plants that have recently started operations up here in the far Northern Cape, and more that are scheduled to be built here as part of the state’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme. One of the conditions of their agreement with the state, is that a percentage of each plant’s staff will, where possible, be recruited from within communities that live in a 50km radius of the site.
But when it comes to the skilled and semi-skilled jobs - many of which are technical or engineering in nature - there just isn’t a big enough pool in the area. And as this initiative by ACWA Power demonstrates, many of the school leavers don’t have the foundational level education to move into those jobs. This is one of the big development needs that power producers aim to address in their development obligations.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 14 March 2017[Feature Article]Read more
Until now, if people in and around Groblershoop in the Northern Cape needed to see a state doctor, they’d have to wait a month for the travelling government clinician to stop in town for a single day. And then they’d have to queue at the local clinic, alongside every other person who had also been waiting for weeks to get treatment, and hope there would be enough time in the day for the doctor to see everyone.
Like so many rural towns in the region, state healthcare services are spread this thin. The town doesn’t even have a pharmacy.
This is why ACWA Power, the Dubai-based company that owns the new 50 megawatt (MW) Bokpoort concentrated solar thermal power plant (CSP) about 10km outside of town, has teamed up with LoveLife to bring a full-time doctor to town.
LoveLife traditionally focuses on bringing HIV/AIDS-related education to youth from the ages of 12 to about 19. But when the organisation did a needs assessment of the ǃKheis Local Municipality - which services six towns, including Groblershoop - it found that the lack of a full-time state doctor was a gap that needed filling urgently.
Meanwhile, ACWA Power’s CSP plant was just coming into operation outside Groblershoop. The Bokpoort plant is part of the state’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, one of 96 renewable power plants that the state has commissioned to be built across the country.
As part of its contractual agreement with the Department of Energy (DoE), a percentage of the revenue earned by selling the Bokpoort plant’s electricity to the grid, must be spent on local social or enterprise development in communities living within a 50km radius of the plant. With this in mind, ACWA Power decided to team up with LoveLife in order to fund the organisation’s expanded operation in this municipality.
The five-year funding commitment, which will be open for renewal, supports the teams of LoveLife education volunteers, pays for this full-time doctor who will be based at the Groblershoop clinic, and will fund the bus services that will bring people in from the surrounding communities in order to see the doctor.
This funding also gives LoveLife enough security to invest in building a small youth centre on a piece of municipal land where they have been granted a long-term lease.
ACWA Power funds many other development projects in the area, and will be able to increase the investment if it is allowed to proceed with expanding the plant. The DoE has approved an expansion of the plant, and the power producer is waiting for Eskom to finalise the contractual paperwork that includes agreement on the price that the state will pay for electricity which will be generated once the second phase of the plant is up and running.
Eskom is delaying the paperwork on 26 such plants around the country, in turn delaying their construction, and the timeline in which plant operations will begin. As a consequence, this delays the flow of funding into community development work in all the regions.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 01 March 2017[Feature Article] The South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) has issued a statement in response to the Coal Transportation Forum’s press notice, relating to the reasons behind their unfortunate industrial action in Tshwane this morning. SAREC believes that the statement contains a number of factual errors which need correcting. “We would like to firstly point out that the reduced coal consumption of up to 10 million tonnes by 2021 is actually part of Government’s policy and it is consistent with South Africa’s climate change commitment,” says Brenda Martin, Chair of SAREC.Read more
“Furthermore, Eskom has its own ambition to procure and own 9,6 GW of nuclear plant by 2030 as anticipated in the 2010 Integrated Resource Plan and which is consistent with the utility’s support for the “Carbon Budget Nuclear” scenario of this resource plan,” added Martin.
It is common knowledge that South Africa, along with the rest of the world, is transitioning from coal to other energy sources, be it renewable energy, gas or even nuclear. This is a challenge and the reality being faced by countries around the world. “The renewable energy sector globally has shown itself to be even more successful at job creation than the coal or nuclear industry and we believe that we will prove that in South Africa,” she said.
Finally, SAREC is concerned about who has been providing CTA with its information, particularly in the light that Mr. Koko has been constantly posting in social media parroting the same “facts” during the morning. We believe it is important that people enter into informed debates on the fact of the matter rather than feeding off misinformation.
SAREC is open to engagement with the leadership of CTA to discuss the matters further if there is any clarification required on the facts above.
In direct response to the CTF’s statement, SAREC’s outline includes:
- SAREC would like to refer the CTF to Table 11 of the 2017 Budget Review which shows that the contingent from IPPs will be R104 Bn rather than the R700 Bn indicated in their statement. At the same time Eskom’s contingent liability will have risen to R284 Bn. We would like to suggest that CTF contact National Treasury for confirmation of these facts.
- If CTA would refer to the IRP 2016 update of the IRP, Komati, Hendrina, Arnot, Camden and Grootvlei power are due for decommissioning by 2030. Eskom has performed a life extension exercise for the rehabilitation of these. In fact, Eskom plans to decommission some 27,5 GW of coal-fired plant by 2040 which will result in a total of 12 thermal plants being closed. Eskom has performed a life extension exercise to confirm the feasibility of repowering the plant, which has been shown to be too expensive. SAREC would like to propose that CTA contact both the Department of Energy and Eskom for confirmation of these facts.
- The construction of the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired plants which would replace a number of these old plants will result in a reduction in Eskom’s coal procurement by some 30 million tonnes per annum.
- The reduced coal consumption of up to 10 million tonnes by 2021 is part of Government’s policy and it is consistent with South Africa’s climate change commitment. Eskom’s own ambition to procure and own 9,6 GW of nuclear plant by 2030 as anticipated in the 2010 IRP and which is consistent with the utility’s support for the “Carbon Budget / Nuclear” scenario of the IRP.
- SAREC would like to suggest that CTF engage actively with Mr. Matshele Koko, the interim CEO of Eskom to confirm Eskom’s position on nuclear and the consequences that it will have on the Limpopo and Mpumalanga coal industries.
- SAREC would propose that CTA speak to both Eskom and the Energy Centre of the CSIR for independent verification of these facts.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 27 February 2017[Feature Article] Delays by Eskom to sign off the next round of state-commissioned wind farms has cost a local black-owned transport and rigging company 30 jobs since November 2016.Read more
Now, if the state utility does not follow through on the Minister of Energy’s instruction to finalise contracts with the independent energy firms that are earmarked to build and run these farms, it could further jeopardise the hauling operator, which since 2014 has upgraded its facilities to the tune of R60 million in order to meet the new growth in the renewable energy sector here.
Absolute Rigging, a Cape Town-based specialist in hauling abnormal loads, has been shipping steel and concrete wind tower segments between manufacturing plants in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, to new wind farms being built in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces since 2014. It also ships blades and turbine generator housings (the ‘nacelle’) from local ports.
But orders for tower parts have dried up since November 2016, and no new shipments are coming from the wind tower manufacturers.
‘We have a had letter of intent from our next (wind farm) client since April 2016, and were meant to start shipping the tower segments in September last year,’ explains Absolute Rigging owner Armien Hassiem.
However, construction has still not begun on this farm near Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape, and orders cannot be processed.
This delay is due to the failure of Eskom to finalise the power purchase agreements (PPAs) with private energy firms which the Department of Energy (DoE) has already approved as part of its utility-scale renewable power programme which started in 2011. Since then, the department began commissioning 96 renewable plants, using mostly solar and wind technologies, and about half of these plants are already operational and selling electricity to the grid. But construction is on hold on the next round of 26 plants, owing to Eskom dragging its feet on the price that it will pay for the electricity that these plants will provide to the national grid.
Until now, Absolute Rigging has specialised in servicing the oil, gas, mining, and construction industries. However, Hassiem says the firm invested R60 million in additional equipment for hauling abnormal loads for the wind industry in 2014 when he saw that the domestic rigging industry lacked the specialist equipment needed to move turbine components around the country. This includes truck tractors, multi-axle and extendable blade trailers, cranes, as well as specialist ‘tower clamp’ trailers that can’t be repurposed for hauling other abnormal loads.
The company also hired an additional 50 staff to join the existing 80 in order to accommodate this growth in demand.
These jobs include heavy duty and escort vehicle drivers and their assistants, project managers, supervisors, and site managers. The company also hires a number of unskilled labourers on the delivery side, to assist with offloading the cargo.
A typical load
The first power plant which the rigging operation delivered components to was the 138 megawatt Gouda Wind Farm, about 110km north of Cape Town. It took eight months to haul the 782 loads of concrete tower sections, each of which weights 55 tons.
However, the boom in wind farm construction came to a halt in late 2016 as new plants await contractual sign-off from Eskom.
The last order for tower segments that Absolute Rigging shipped was in December 2016, from Port Elizabeth-based manufacturer DCD Wind Towers. Earlier this month, it was reported that the factory was on the brink of closure, owing to these delays, as the facility has been standing idle since the last orders were shipped out.
During last week’s budget speech, finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced the Treasury’s commitment to the DoE’s renewable energy programme, and energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has instructed Eskom to finalise these agreements. However Eskom has given no firm date on when it plans to respond.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 21 February 2017[Feature Article] When a 44 megawatt solar plant turned on its lights just outside the Karoo town of Touws River in December 2014, a percentage of the revenue it earned from selling electricity to the national grid immediately started trickling through into the town’s sluggish economy. Leonie Joubert visited some of the businesses that are part of an enterprise incubation scheme.Read more
‘Nice colour,’ someone quips at Jayce McKenzie’s sporty, burned-orange sedan, its metallic finish shimmering like scales under the Karoo sun. Low-profile mags give it a predatory edge.
‘I’m a nice colour!’ he fires back, flashing gilt-edged teeth.
The 37-year-old is a local from Touws River, one of those forgotten little transport towns in the Karoo which once serviced the railways, and now has the big rigs thundering past on the national highway, weighted down under their freight.
He says it’s his passion for music (pronounced with the Cape’s quaint inflection: passin, rather than pashion) that got him into the sound equipment hiring business about eight or nine years ago.
‘Oh, anyone who needs sound - churches, the rugby club, parties. Mostly parties. And weddings!’
About two years ago, Jayce heard through the local municipality that there were a series of business incubation initiatives starting up. Gathered in a town hall meeting, they were given an overview: the two initiatives were to be funded with the income earned by the new solar power plant that had opened up out of town in 2014. The plant’s development branch, Knowledge Pele, was going to start up two programmes: an entry-level enterprise development plan to help take aspirant entrepreneurs through the ‘ideas’ phase of developing and conceptualising a business over a six-month period; and a two-year programme to inject skills into existing businesses so they can run more effectively.
JC Sounds was one of the first seven businesses to be selected for the second programme.
What has Jayce got out of the collaboration?
‘My business is doing well now, everything’s expanded, man,’ he drawls from inside the shadow of his baseball cap. ‘They bought me some equipment. I learned how to do my admin, because I didn’t do that before, like filing and invoicing and stuff. And I learned about management…’
He is running late to pick up his child from school, he says, and needs to get going. But he’s keen to talk about his operation.
‘Ja, I play all over, De Doorns, Lainsburg, wherever there’s a need.’
What’s next for him?
‘I need a stage,’ he says, ticking items off a mental list, ‘and some lighting. See, I’ve got this gig in Robertson next Saturday.’
Expanding to have a stage and lighting, on top of the sound gear, would take JC Sounds up a notch or two.
And, does he play the decks? You know, that whole DJ thing?
‘Oh yes, I play as well,’ he grins, flashing gold again.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 20 February 2017[Feature Article]Read more
When a 44 megawatt solar plant was built just outside the Karoo town of Touws River, the private consortium that owns it had to ensure that some of the people it hired to help run the place are from nearby communities. Leonie Joubert met the security guards at the gate.
Rachel Natel has her no-nonsense face on this morning, as a car pulls up at the gate to the relatively new solar power plant about 10km outside of Touws River.
‘Blow onto this, please?’
She points to the blunt end of an electrical device in her hand, and nods. She’s not really asking. It’s only 9am, but security protocols are tight here: no booze in your system, if you’re coming onto the premises.
The 31-year-old later softens as she starts talking about herself: she’s been employed here as a security guard for two years. Before that, she was a farm worker, picking grapes and the likes.
The Touwsrivier CPV1 PV power plant is one of a series of 96 state-commissioned facilities that is being built around the country, as part of the Department of Energy’s utility-scale renewable energy programme. Some of the state’s conditions are that these private energy firms source a percentage of their equipment, materials, and services from within South Africa; that some of the skills come from within the local community; and that they run various socio-economic or enterprise development initiatives within local communities, to try and inject a bit of life into these often lacklustre rural economies.
Many of the approximately 50 plants that are already built and feeding electricity into the grid, took between 18 months and two years to build, resulting in significant construction-related jobs. All plants have a life expectancy of about 20 years, meaning that they will definitely provide operational jobs for two decades.
An analysis of the overall programme by Professor Anton Eberhard, an infrastructure specialist at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, estimates that the number jobs across all 96 plants will be close to 110 000 in total, of which nearly 85 000 are specifically for black South Africans, and nearly 58 000 jobs for people living in the vicinity of the sites.
The cascade of jobs in the industries surrounding these obvious construction and operational jobs is harder to measure and predict, but shouldn’t be discounted, according to a Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) report, which reviews the wider employment implications of the programme.
‘The kind of enterprise development associated with these plants goes well beyond just what happens on the sites themselves,’ explains doctoral-level social scientist and consultant Holle Wlokas, who wrote the WWF report.
‘During construction, you can expect an increase in demand for many different services in the wider community, as the local population swells with the influx of people associated with construction.’
Local hotels and related accommodation businesses and food retailers, for instance, will receive a boost in demand.
‘Hardware stores and people in the transport industry are also likely to see an increase in trade.’
This analysis doesn’t include the possible benefits for the informal sector, which helps keep money circulating within the local economy.
Most of these jobs are associated with the construction phase, generally occurring in the first two years of a project. These usually result in unskilled work for local residents, and are temporary, but give necessary employment opportunities for those who might otherwise struggle to find work in economically stagnant rural areas. Operational jobs are usually more skilled, and are fewer in number, but are expected to last 20 years through the lifespan of the plants, which will be a further injection into local economies.
The Touws River plant has been fully operation since December 2014, and now employs around 35 people.
Rachel, and her colleagues Cedric Koopman (53) and Selwyn Africa (25), also security guards, are amongst those. It looks like there are long hours of waiting for not much to happen, out here amidst the farmlands of the Karoo. But when a car does pull up at the front gates of the plant, strict protocols kick in. This is a high voltage facility, and security has to be tight.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 17 February 2017[Feature Article]Read more
When a 44 megawatt solar plant turned on its lights just outside the Karoo town of Touws River in December 2014, a percentage of the revenue it earned from selling electricity to the national grid immediately started trickling through into the town’s sluggish economy. Leonie Joubert visited one of the businesses that is part of an enterprise incubation scheme there.
Most of the seamstresses at the Busy Bee sewing company in Touws River are old hands at this. They’ve been working their needles and thread since they learned the craft in high school, 40 or more years ago. And yet, every now and then, a job will come in that’ll flummox them.
‘Like those jeans there, the white ones,’ Mercia Lottering (50) quips, pointing to a folded pair next to a nearby sewing machine.
Maria Wagenstroom (63) picks them up. The legs tumble out, showing how she’s pinned each one so she can tailor them into a more fashionable ‘skinny’ fit.
‘Ja, these jeans are finished, but now we must fix them!’
Their ‘stressed’ look is from genuine wear and tear.
‘In this town, people want you to do everything!’ says Mercia. ‘Sometimes it’s impossible, but we must just do it.’
The banter goes back and forth: Maria and Mercia in the middle of the room, and Alida van der Merwe (50) at the front window with a green lace dress fanned out around her machine. Henrietta Olivier (22), perched on a bar stool at the back, says nothing, but her fingers blur as she knits another handbag. She’s not using conventional yarn, but bias binding tape. Maria points to a number of bags hanging along the wall, to show what the finished item will look like.
School tracksuits, ball gowns, wedding dresses, alterations, repairs, cutting patterns from scratch, even mending jeans that are at the end of their days - the seamstresses of the Busy Bee sewing company will do it all.
New life for old skills
This cheery little hole-in-the-wall business is in a rectangular sliver of a room, crowded in between a general dealer and a liquor store on Dwars Straat (literally ‘Across Street’) in Steenvliet, a suburb of Touws River. A single front window and the open stable door let in light, but there’s no sign above the shop to announce that this is where they’re at.
This is a well established business, but the four women have joined an enterprise mentoring initiative that’s trying to inject a bit of vigour back into Touws River’s torpid economy. And the endeavour is funded by the earnings from a new solar power plant about 10km out of town.
As the Department of Energy has commissioned a series of what will eventually be 96 renewable energy plants around the country, one condition of its agreement with the private firms that will build and operate these plants, is that a percentage of the revenue earned from selling electricity to the grid will be invested in development initiatives within communities in a 50km radius of the site. The 44 megawatt (MW) Touwsrivier CPV1 PV Plant was one of the first of nearly 50 of these renewable power plants that are already operating nationwide, and selling power to the national utility, Eskom.
And so it’s the community in Touws River itself that’s the focus of the development assistance from this plant. Knowledge Pele, the development wing of the consortium that owns and runs the power plant, is responsible for making the work happen. Since revenues first started trickling in during 2015, they’ve initiated bursary and internship schemes for youth, and two enterprise development initiatives for aspiring and established businesses, amongst others.
The Busy Bee seamstresses were amongst seven established operations that were recruited as part of the first intake in 2016. Knowledge Pele is still stress-testing these fledgling initiatives. If any of the established businesses don’t advance as quickly as might be expected in the first year, they can switch over to the ‘starter pack’ initiative, which takes aspiring enterprises through the process of conceptualising and starting up a business over a shorter six-month period.
Busy Bee was already registered as a company, with a bank account and their BEE certification. Alida was their financial manager. But now that they are half way into this two-year mentoring programme, they’ve worked with the development team to see what the business’s main needs are, and developed a plan for the coming year. They’ve gone to Cape Town for training in cost accounting and financial management. They’ve been helped with some additional equipment, like an embroidery machine, and capital to buy fabrics. And they’re re-thinking how they charge for their work, because they realised they’ve been undercutting themselves.
‘The materials we’ve been using are expensive, and we’ve been charging too little for the clothing we’re making,’ one of the ladies chimes in. ‘So we either have to buy cheaper materials, or we need to charge more.’
In 2017, they’ll carry on pooling their takings each month, paying the business expenses like rent and electricity, and then splitting what’s left over as their ‘salaries’. But with their amended pricing, hopefully things will start to look a bit more flush.
Not like this month, though. January is always tough.
‘There’s nothing left, now,’ says their financial manager.
They also need a bit more space. There’s no room in this tiny shop for another seamstress to join them. There’s barely room for cutting large pieces of fabric. Almost every surface is a bundle of stuff: piles of folded cloth, bags of sewing accessories, garments on hangers in various stages of completion or repair.
‘I would like to design, that’s my dream,’ Alida admits, from her station at the front of the room. ‘But you have to go to school for that.’
‘Or, if it’s natural, if it’s in you, you just do it,’ chirps Mercia. ‘But with all the measuring and calculating, it’ll help (to have training).’
‘No, I can’t be a designer because I don’t like mathematics!’ Alida again.
You must know how to work things out, they say: when a seam is 2.5 cm here, or maybe it’s 50 cm there, you have to measure it, work it all out.
‘It’s a lot of thinking. If you make a pattern out of your head, you have to check, for all sizes. Big, small, it’s too much!’
At the back of the room, Henrietta’s knitting needles click in a meditative rhythm, as Maria whips out her cellphone to scroll through the picture gallery.
‘That was the ultimate for me,’ she says, holding the phone out. A glammed-up teenager beams up from the screen, dark tresses tumbling down her bare shoulders, in a frangipani-pink gown with fitted bodice and fishtail skirt.
Her granddaughter, off to her matric dance last year.
‘And for the little one.’
Maria flicks the screen. A girl, probably four or so, in folds of the same pink. She wanted one too, Maria says.
Tricky designs like those are the ones that keep these women awake at night.
‘You lie at night and think ‘Oh, that dress, how do I…?’.’ says Maria.
Alida chimes in:
‘What I like, when there’s something I really don’t know how to do and lie awake at night, I’ll come in the next day and say ‘Now I know how to do it!’.’
‘We ask each other,’ another quips, ‘how can we do this? Because if you haven’t done something, for instance, if someone comes to you with that dress and says fix this, how must you do it if you have never done it before?’
Backwards and forwards, these partners of many years natter about how they get by, these seamstresses of the Busy Bee sewing company.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 16 February 2017[Feature Article]Read more
Since the 44 megawatt solar plant just outside the Karoo town of Touws River started selling electricity to the national grid in December 2014, a percentage of its revenue has been ploughed into giving study opportunities, work experience, and jobs to youngsters who might otherwise have few opportunities in the region’s lacklustre economy. Leonie Joubert met one of the plant’s ‘light voltage’ electricians.
There’s not a whole lot going on in Touws River at closing time on the average work day. A determined breeze trots down the main road, tumbleweeding a few paper bags between the loose groups of people who stroll languidly home. Do an internet search for ‘the best restaurant in town’, and it’ll throw back the name of a single fast food joint at a truck stop perched on the edge of the national highway which runs directly past town. It’s the kind of place where truckers pull onto the roadside at two, three, sometimes four o’clock in the morning, and stand next to their idling rigs, calling to one another while the thundering engines set the steel-framed windows of the town’s only hotel a-rattling.
Cornelius Flink is the son of a former railway man. He grew up in this small Karoo town which, like many that had blossomed along the sidings of the tracks that shipped most of the country’s goods about for decades, has seen its economy slow to an idle as the state throttled back the rail services in the early 1990s. There were a lot of retrenchments, he remembers, and ‘the town went down after that’.
Fortunately, freight still had to be moved around the country, and so long-haul trucks picked up some of the slack. But Cornelius was nevertheless amongst the next generation of town’s residents who finished school, only to find there wasn’t much by way of job prospects or further education.
Come a warm summer’s morning in January 2017, and the now 34-year-old Cornelius is standing in the control room in a solar power plant about 10km out of town, scanning a dashboard of computer monitors that are dotted with green icons, laid out in grids.
‘There are 30 blocks in all,’ the soft-spoken Cornelius explains, a two-way radio hanging easily from one hand. Each dot on the screen represents one panel of concentrated photovoltaic solar cells out there in the field, mounted on an articulated arm. There are 1 500 tracker-mounted panels across the whole site. Two of the dots, though, have flashed momentarily to red.
‘There’s one there,’ a colleague points to the righthand-most monitor, ‘and there’s another bad performance over there.’
Another grid has a single ‘warning’ sign: that universal yellow triangle with an exclamation mark in it.
Cornelius, one of the plant’s ‘light voltage’ electricians, explains the process: a technician will pop out to each of those trackers, plug a laptop into an electrical panel at its base, run a diagnostic, and then get the panel back online. All in a day’s work.
An electrician by trade
In his 20s, Cornelius came within a whisper of getting his electrician certificate. He was two prac units shy of getting his diploma from a college in Cape Town, when he was offered a chance to upgrade to a degree at Stellenbosch University. But things fell apart in his third year.
‘I was… distracted,’ he says, his fingers tightly entwined in front of him.
He was battling through his first semester - ‘The course is tough, especially in third year!’ - when his mother fell ill. Cancer. He failed his first semester, tried again, and failed again. Between that, moving out of the koshuis (the university residence), and trying to support himself with little funding, it was all too much.
He worked for a while - mundane jobs, like at a local fast food joint - but eventually came back home to live with his father, where he was without work for ‘two or three years’, he can’t remember precisely.
But then in 2012, a German company that supplies renewable energy equipment rolled into town, looking to recruit some local talent to train up as electricians for a plant that was about to be built about 10km out of town as part of the South African Department of Energy’s utility-scale renewable energy rollout.
Soitec, which specialises in concentrated photovoltaic solar technology, sent Cornelius off with 17 others on six months’ training, and then hired them to help install the electronics on the tracker control units and other aspects of the plant’s ‘light’ electronics.
This kept Cornelius employed until the plant was completed in 2014 (it went ‘live’ in December 2014). Once their contracts ended, he was once again left looking for odd jobs in town, until another opportunity linked to the power plant came his way a year later.
Knowledge Pele, the development wing of Johannesburg-based renewable energy firm, Pele Green Energy, was ready to start implementing the plant’s social responsibility plan. The consortium that owns and runs the site, of which Pele Green is a part, is required according to its contract with the state to channel a percentage of the revenue earned from selling power to the grid, back into the local community through various socio-economic or enterprise development schemes. This work spans the 20-year life of the plant.
One of Knowledge Pele’s initiatives is to link people like Cornelius up with internship opportunities in Johannesburg. And so, in 2016, he went to ‘the big smoke’ to spend a year working for an electronics firm, wiring up PV boxes, connecting the ‘DC’ side to the cable, working on the transformers and the lights.
‘Wiring the cables into the inverters, that needs attention to detail! There are a ton of wires in there. You have to use your wiring diagram.’
Once he returned from the internship, he was offered one of the operational jobs here at the power plant, where he and two others from the original course now work together.
Tracking the sun
Cornelius leads the way out into the field of trackers, after the mandatory breathalyser test and visitor safety briefing.
‘Beware of snakes and wildlife,’ the safety officer warns. Cape cobras and puff adders, lots of them, he says.
Cornelius is a quiet man, and needs to be drawn out on most topics, but when pressed, he smiles and admits that this is one of the more beautiful solar technologies.
Concentrated PV works on the same principle as burning paper with a magnifying glass: a panel is made up of a series of convex pieces of glass, each of which concentrates the sunlight into a blisteringly hot point of light, which is focused onto a photovoltaic cell that’s about the size of a pinky fingernail.
The conversion rate of sunlight to energy is much greater and more efficient than with standard PV cells. But to work, it needs to be technically on-point: the panel needs to stay locked precisely onto the sun, even as the Earth spins slowly through its cycle. The tracker must keep in lockstep, ensuring that the beam of light coming through each piece of glass remains in focus throughout the day, and doesn’t wander off its target.
Like daisy flowers turning their faces to the sun, these trackers will follow the arch of the sun through the sky, day, after day, after day, through the twenty year life of the plant. And technicians like Cornelius will need to be on standby, to make sure none of them goes offline in that time.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 09 February 2017[Feature Article]Read more
If Eskom does not sign off on the next round of state-commissioned wind farms within the next few weeks, one of South Africa’s two wind tower manufacturers will be forced to close its Port Elizabeth-based factory and lay off the remaining 143 staff. The facility is expected to close in April.
The R400 million facility was set up in 2013 on the basis of the Department of Energy’s (DoE) energy policy, which forecast a relatively steady and predictable investment in new wind generation capacity between now and 2030. The state also ruled that a percentage of materials and skills for its renewable energy rollout should be acquired in the domestic market.
But after supplying steel towers to wind farms in the Eastern Cape since April 2014, the production line at the DCD Wind Towers facility has been standing idle for three months, since no new orders can be processed.
These delays are owing to the failure by Eskom to finalise the power purchase agreements (PPAs) with private wind energy firms which the DoE has already approved as part of its utility-scale renewable energy programme. Since 2011, the DoE has begun commissioning 96 renewable energy plants, using mostly solar and wind technologies. Half of these are already operational and selling electricity to the grid.
But construction has been delayed on the next 26 power plants, some of which are wind farms, because of Eskom’s failure to finalise the contracts that will determine how much the national utility will pay the private companies for the electricity sold to the grid. Since being given DoE approval, developers have been kept waiting by Eskom for nearly two years.
DCD Wind Towers general manager Alta-Mari Grebe says the factory has been at a standstill since the last tower unit was shipped out in November 2016. Since then, the staff complement shrunk by 29 as contracts were not renewed, or as skilled and semi-skilled employees sought work elsewhere amidst uncertain about the future of the plant.
‘The factory was built with an anticipated demand (for new capacity) until 2030, by which time we would have recouped our investment. But this factory is just over two years old. It doesn’t make sense to recapitalise now,’ she says.
The plant produces the tower sections which, once assembled on site as a complete tower, are between 80m and 90m tall. The process involves turning sheet metal of different strengths into the curved walls of the towers, and requires skilled and semi-skilled artisans, such as welders, boiler makers, electricians, and ‘blasters’. The process of priming and painting is done by hand, and is labour intensive.
‘Many of the artisans we hired, had to undergo additional training, because this requires industry-specific skills,’ Grebe says.
The factory is located in the Coega Industrial Development Zone, in the Eastern Cape, where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average.
‘We started out with 172 employees. Now we have 143 going onto short time.’
While Grebe declined to say how many wind towers the factory would produce as a result of the pending wind farms, she said that the anticipated demand from the new plants is sufficient to keep both of SA’s tower factories in work for the next three to four years.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 07 February 2017[Feature Article]Read more
Leonie Joubert is a regular contributor to the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s Energy Transitions. This column was published by the HBF this week.
This year, the South African government has the chance to set in place the kind of policy environment that will incubate local manufacturers and encourage foreign investment in the renewable energy sector here. But if the current draft policy is approved, it will create market uncertainty and drive investors away.
The government’s draft blue-print for how South Africa will power its electricity grid over the next few decades is being mulled over by experts and activists right now: the 2016 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), will decide how much of that power will come from coal, nuclear, gas, or renewables between now and 2030. The infrastructure it builds as a result of this plan will live with us for decades beyond that, and determine the cost and carbon intensity of that grid.
The draft IRP is currently out for public comment. While it does allow for investment in solar and wind infrastructure until 2030, critics say that it sets up a ‘boom and bust’ demand which will undermine the country’s long-term industrialisation potential. In its current shape, the draft policy also threatens the viability of many smaller emerging businesses along the wind and solar value chains.
This version of the IRP allows for some growth in demand for wind and photovoltaic (PV) plants between now and 2021. But for the years 2021 and 2022, the plan does not include new investment in new wind power, and very little PV. From 2023, it allows for a small amount of new wind capacity again, after which demand picks up again slightly for both.
The likely effect of this two-year gap in demand is a boom-and-bust environment that creates investment uncertainty, argues Brenda Martin, chair of the SA Renewable Energy Council, SAREC.
‘Factories will have been set up between now and 2021 to meet a growing demand, and staff will have been trained. But from 2021, orders for parts will slow dramatically or stop. This will result in job losses and factory closure,’ she says.
Manufacturers already feeling the pinch
The implications of a boom-and-bust demand are already being felt in these sectors, due to current delays by the national utility, Eskom, in finalising deals with private wind and solar energy firms as part of the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement programme (REIPPP).
Demand for wind and solar parts and skills picked up dramatically in 2011 when the Department of Energy (DoE) began a process of commissioning 92 concentrated solar power, PV, biomass, landfill, wind, and small hydro plants to be built and operated by private energy firms under the REIPPP programme.
Half of these have been built and are already operational. But construction of the next 26 plants has been on hold for over 20 months, as Eskom has delayed signing the contracts which will set the price for how much it state will pay for the power which these privately-owned plants will generate over the next two decades. There is an investment value of approximately R50 billion associated with these plants.
These delays are already threatening two local wind turbine manufacturers, according to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) principal energy researcher Ntombifuthi Ntuli. This, she says, demonstrates what similar boom-and-bust demand could mean for the long-term sustainability of such enterprises.
“The manufacturing sector is the first to feel the heat when these sorts of delays happen,’ she says. ‘When construction is put on hold like this, manufacturers are forced to lay off staff and eventually close factories. They have made a huge investment in training people. If they have to close a factory in response to the market shutting down for two years, they don’t know if they will be able to restart once construction picks up again.”
The SA Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) is also concerned about the impact of Eskom’s contract delays on the PV value chain. Even though most PV panels are still imported, local businesses providing steel frames or installation services are negatively impacted.
A similar dip in demand will occur between 2021 and 2023, if the current IRP draft is not amended to guarantee a more stable and continuous demand over the next two decades.
“This two-year lull in wind energy demand between 2021 and 2022, and the slow demand thereafter, creates a challenge for manufacturers as the facilities that have been established cannot stand idling,’ says Martin, ‘and the lack of investor confidence could result in manufacturers moving their operations to countries with more stable policy environments.”
The long-term implications of investor flight is that the next wave of South Africa’s industrialisation will be stalled, according to SAPVIA acting CEO Mike Levington. Investment in renewable energy can stimulate significant industrial growth and provide alternative and new employment and business opportunities that can replace the coal value chain.
The DoE has about six months in which to respond to the comments currently coming in from the public on this draft IRP, and then finalise the plan. The renewable energy sector here is using this opportunity to call on the minister to rework the plan to increase the percentage of wind and solar energy in the energy mix, and create a predictable, stable energy policy environment to stimulate local investment in manufacturing and associated industries.
This article was originally published on the Energy Transition website.
- South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), 06 February 2017[Feature Article]Read more
The West Coast town of Hopefield needs social services, improved schooling, and enterprise development. As part of its social responsibility commitments, a nearby wind farm is directing some of its revenue to plugging the holes in the local education system. By Leonie Joubert.
If Marco ‘Bokkie’ Maarman could have, he’d have studied to become a marine biologist. He’s always loved fish, he says; always been fascinated by ‘life under the sea’. He floats a flat hand in front of his face, mimicking a rolling ocean surface.
‘It must have been my father’s influence,’ the 37-year-old smiles.
For years, his father worked the galley on fishing boats that headed out into the chilly Atlantic, typically in search of anchovy, or snoek, or hake, and cooked for the crew. He’d be gone for one, two, sometimes three months at a time, between short spells back home in the West Coast town of Hopefield, about 130km north of Cape Town. He remembers many forlorn Christmases when his father wasn’t home.
Now, his father is elderly and retired, and the two live together in a small state-built house on the outskirts of town, with one of his sisters and a nephew.
Maarman went to junior school here in Hopefield, and then travelled to nearby Vredenburg about 34 km away to finish high school. But like many school leavers from his neighbourhood, there wasn’t much money to study further. And so, either through luck or happenstance, he became a tradesman: first, working as a welder on the fishing boats down on the coast; then he learned carpentry under his brother’s tutelage.
This bottleneck in the town’s schooling system is one of the needs that a local development initiative is trying to free up, and it’s linked to the Hopefield Wind Farm which, since December 2014, has had 37 turbines turning their blades in the face of the onshore wind, and feeding power into the national grid.
Green energy, local development
In 2011, the South African Department of Energy (DoE) started a process of commissioning private energy firms to build and run a series of 96 renewable energy plants across the country, mostly wind and solar plants, but also some biomass, landfill, and small hydro plants.
As part of each company’s agreement with the state, a percentage of the revenue generated from selling electricity to the national utility, Eskom, must go towards social and enterprise development in communities within 50km of each plant.
The Hopefield Wind Farm, owned by Cape Town-based Umoya Energy and run by Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas, was one of the first plants to be built as part of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme. When Umoya’s development team met with communities in Hopefield, it found that in addition to support for basic services - such as health and community social services - the town’s education system needed an injection of aid.
‘There’s only one primary school and one high school here in town,’ says Umoya Energy’s Elton Gordon, senior project manager in its community operations department. Many pupils still travel to Vredenburg to attend high school, just as Maarman did twenty years ago.
When Umoya asked the local schools what support they needed, they found that Hopefield Primary School’s fourth grade class was overcrowded. So Umoya offered to fund the cost of an extra Grade 4 teacher, along with a teaching assistant.
The next initiative is a bursary scheme for school leavers - those who, like Maarman, might want to study at a tertiary level, but don’t have the funds.
‘We have four people on bursaries at the moment,’ says Gordon. ‘They’re studying in the areas of engineering, food science, and education.’
Then there’s the enterprise development side of things. One element of a home improvement project here in town, run by Umoya Energy, is to train up local artisans - electricians, plumbers, and carpenters - to help with retrofitting low-cost houses with ceilings, solar water heaters, additional electrical points, and low-energy lightbulbs. Maarman was one of the recruits for this programme, and after two years of working as an employee on the project, is now being trained up to operate as a contractor. Over the next three years, with the help of a mentor, he’ll learn the basics of running a business: managing finances, ordering from suppliers, hiring and paying staff, and invoicing for work done.
Maarman laughs when he remembers his first attempts at carpentry as a teenager.
‘I didn’t really like woodwork at school,’ he says. He remembers not being that good with his hands. But years of learning at his brother’s side changed that. And now he’s starting a whole new chapter, contracting to the firm that is training him to be his own boss.