As renewable energy has become increasingly cost competitive as an alternative new-build option in South Africa in the past five years, South African research institute the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is streamlining its energy-research offerings to cater for the increasing penetration of renewables into the South African energy system.
“State-owned power utility Eskom is a close partner of the CSIR in this endeavour to demonstrate new technologies and systems in a real-world research platform setting,” says CSIR Energy Centre head Dr Tobias Bischof-Niemz, noting that research topics covered include, but are not limited to, the design and operation of an energy system based on distributed generation, energy storage and smarter grid infrastructure.
The CSIR energy centre, under the umbrella of a bilateral research agreement with Eskom, aims to showcase how a future energy system can be optimally designed and operated.
Therefore, the centre’s research will be directly applied at the CSIR’s campuses across South Africa, Bischof-Niemz says.
“It will be demonstrated on the campuses how a primarily renewables-based energy system, entailing solar, wind and biogas, can be designed and operated at the lowest possible cost in rands per kilowatt hour, and how the six CSIR campuses can interact and balance each other as a virtual power plant.”
Further, the campuses will simultaneously provide the research platform for the development and application of electricity, heat and hydrogen storage, the integration of electric vehicles, demand-side management and energy efficiency measures, he adds.
“We will essentially run the campuses as a blueprint of a future power system, based on volatile renewable energy, such as wind and solar, coupled with nonvolatile, dispatchable technologies such as biogas, storage and demand-side interventions.”
Further research will include technologies that are in an early stage of development, such as power-to-hydrogen through electrolysers, power-to-synthetic-fuels and various battery technologies, for which the campus power model will provide a research platform, Bischof-Niemz says.
“We will demonstrate across our campuses how the traditional model of distinct energy consumers and energy producers will transition to one of distributed ‘energy prosumers’ – entities that will at times consume and at other times produce energy.
“To connect and balance these prosumers instantaneously is the new big task for utilities, and we want to support them in this endeavour by creating the relevant knowledge base,” he concludes.