Since arriving in the country in 2007, Australian wind energy development firm Windlab has become a significant player in the South African wind energy arena and is developing a raft of projects.
Windlab community relations manager for South Africa Ian Macdonald tells Engineering News that it is developing a number of projects, which were initiated with banking group Investec, as well as projects on an independent basis.
He explains that Windlab was founded in Australia in 2003 as a spin-off of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
"The company's scientific background enabled it to create a high-resolution wind resource mapping system and it realised there were commercial opportunities to be explored. We teamed up with Investec in Australia and started developing wind projects," explains Macdonald.
The secret to the company's success is its proprietary atmospheric modelling software known as WindScape, which can be used to predict mean wind speed across a large area at high-resolution.
Macdonald explains that this system is designed to represent wind conditions at any point on the globe and allows the company to identify sites that are otherwise easily overlooked.
"With our advanced wind modelling tools we are able to remotely locate and validate new, highly prospective sites rapidly. This reduces risk by shortening initial development timeframes and ensuring the sites we choose to progress are more likely to lead to commercially viable projects," he says.
A recent example, is the R5-billion 206-MW Collgar development, jointly developed by Australia's Investec Bank and Windlab, which is set to become one of Australia's largest wind farms.
Macdonald explains that while other wind energy developers around Australia, and particularly in Western Australia, had focused on obvious coastal sites, the WindScape technology enabled the company to identify inland sites,such as Collgar, which is 250 km east of Perth.
"WindScape takes the guesswork out of determining the most commercially viable locations and enables us to develop world-class wind generation facilities such as Collgar," says Windlab cofounder Dr Nathan Steggel. "Collgar had previously been considered an area of poor wind resource but it is actually one of the very best wind sites in the world."
According to Macdonald, Windlab has developed a strong portfolio of wind energy development projects in South Africa's Western, Northern and Eastern Cape with a combined potential capacity in excess of 2 000 MW.
"This country has fantastic wind resources and we are very pleased to be involved with 14 promising projects that were started with Investec, with five of these projects well advanced. Windlab is also developing a further 10 projects on an independent basis, with five of these advancing strongly," reports Macdonald.
Because legislation is not yet in place for independent power producers to sign power purchase agreements (PPAs) under the renewable energy feed-in tariffs (Refits) programme with State-owned power utility Eskom or the newly proposed independent system operator, the projects have not yet been able to move beyond the feasibility stage and become bankable.
Further to developing projects in the country, Windlab is helping to shape the wind energy market in South Africa, using the experience gained in the course of its operations in Australia, the US and Canada. The company believes that the current official targets for wind energy are too conservative and underestimate the generation potential of wind power.
"Similar market development issues have occurred in Australia, but were resolved and therefore international investors and developers are familiar with this scenario. The South African market is about ten years behind the Australian market, but there is a high degree of confidence that things are moving in the right direction.
"There is political commitment to the greater use of renewable energy and the Refits programme is a promising start. There is a mood of cautious optimism and that significant interest has been shown in the local wind energy sector. While we would like the legislative process to move more rapidly, it is critical that it is done correctly right from the start.
"The industry will gain a huge degree of momentum once the first PPAs are signed, which we anticipate will be by the end of the year," says Macdonald.
Further to its activities in South Africa, the company has a growing portfolio of projects spanning Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand.
It has more than 30 other projects in the pipeline around the world and expects several to be realised in the next two years