South Africa’s much-praised Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) should be seen as only one part of the nation’s renewable-energy opportunity, states large-scale solar power plant developer Ciel & Terre South Africa business development manager Yoann Joyeux.
Addressing industry stakeholders and members of the French South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in December last year, Joyeux said South Africa’s Department of Energy (DoE) had started to replicate successful foreign renewable-energy initiatives through the REIPPP.
However, there is also an opportunity for industrial enterprises to establish their own solar plants and, eventually, for private enterprises to trade in renewables production outside the DoE-led REIPPP.
“The US and European governments have been shaping the emerging solar market by buying electricity at preferred tariffs through tenders or feed-in tariffs,” said Joyeux.
He added, however, that solar power is becoming increasingly competitive without subsidies which, therefore, presents an emerging opportunity for business owners to diversify their energy supply even further, as a hedge against rising utility prices.
Joyeux cited mining companies and other energy-intensive users as possible benefici-aries for these types of projects.
“There are excellent funding conditions in South Africa for these [types of] projects and people don’t know about them. Eskom has a rebate scheme, the Integrated Demand Management Programme, which can finance up to 25% of the initial outlay, and banks are willing to supply loans to people working on [renewable energy] projects,” he said.
Further, South Africa can assess solar power projects implemented in other parts of the world and learn from their mistakes and successes.
The operating life of renewable power plants can also be extended through alter- native power projects, whereas projects under the REIPPP are locked by a 20-year power purchase agreement with Eskom.
However, as Joyeux pointed out, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels can last longer than 20 years. Therefore, if an energy-intensive user were to invest in a solar plant, it would be able to generate electricity and savings over a longer horizon.
Having worked on several local solar energy installation projects since launching Ciel & Terre South Africa this year, Joyeux said he believed that the country could become a leader in self-consumption solar power projects, with many experts stating that Europe would soon also turn to self-consumption energy models.
“One future scenario could be that, in 30 years, [South Africa’s] national grid will provide power only to energy-efficient users when they run short of their own self-generation product, essentially creating an energy safety net.”
Although Joyeux stated that PV technology is a “reliable and proven technology” and “easy to design and install”, he conceded that it is still not the perfect source of energy.
“Solar power cannot be used as a base load for large-scale systems because one cannot forecast the exact amount of power that might be needed every day,” he said, further mentioning that, to have solar power as a base load, one would need to store it.
However, this solution is expensive and requires storage space.
Joyeux said that up to 3 ha would be required for every 1 MW of stored energy and that, while there is space available in many parts of the world, it would be costly and not likely be in close proximity to load centres.
He maintains, however, that lost space in the form of rooftops and water bodies could provide a solution to space constraints.
Financing Small-Scale Projects
Following Joyeux’s address, Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) green industries strategic business unit specialist Honey Mamabolo said an agreement with the French Development Agency (AFD), which was concluded in June last year, could help stimulate small-scale solar investments.
The AFD committed to extending €40- million to finance small-scale renewable- energy projects and greenfield energy projects in partnership with the IDC.
Mamabolo said the IDC would limit the total project investment size it caters for in this funding scheme to include more projects.
“We want to provide an opportunity to smaller developers and companies implementing small- to medium-scale renewable-energy projects,” she said.
Mamabolo believed that the development of green industries is a key focus area for development in South Africa.
While the IDC has supported industrial growth and development in South Africa since its inception in 1940, she noted that the corporation had, more recently, adopted a proactive approach to the development of the green economy, with specific focus on green industries and technologies.
“The objective is to develop, grow and invest in green industries focusing on enhancing the environment and supporting carbon emission reduction,” explained Mamabolo.