A senior executive at engineering group Siemens’ Israel-based Concentrated Solar Power subsidiary has said South Africa would derive greater benefit if it placed more emphasis on concentrating solar power (CSP) as a component of its future energy mix.
The latest version of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), published in April, envisages CSP accounting for 1 000 MW of South Africa’s total energy generation by 2030, compared with 8 400 MW each for wind and solar photovotaic (PV).
The first 300 MW of new solar PV is expected to be available in 2012, while the currently uncommitted 400 MW of wind energy is set down for 2014. CSP capacity is to be introduced only from 2016.
Siemens Concentrated Solar Power business development director Ilan Sharon told Engineering News in Tel Aviv, Israel, early this month, that he believed South Africa would derive greater benefit if it allocated a bigger chunk to CSP than the 1 000 MW set aside in the IRP – a far cry from the allocations for wind and solar PV.
“I think allocating a greater capacity to wind and solar PV is a big mistake that South Africa has made,” he said, explaining that PV-based solar power plants and wind farms needed backup each time there was cloud cover or the wind stopped blowing, which was not the case with CSP.
He said CSP technology provided for greater grid stability, as generation hours could be extended by storing the heat that is produced and releasing it when required.
While storage of the heat generated by CSP technology could not guarantee uninterrupted electricity production, Sharon said “hybridisation” between a solar farm and a backup plant fired by gas or coal would be the solution for “24/7 power generation”.
The Siemens group supplies CSP systems and other solar technologies, but Sharon was at pains to explain this was not the reason he would have preferred to see a bigger allocation for CSP in the latest version of the IRP.
CSP, he said, was a proven technology that had been used at utility scale for decades. In the Mojave desert, in California, US, nine solar thermal plants with a combined capacity of 352 MW had been supplying sustainable power to the grid for more than 20 years, and plants with a combined capacity of 3 500 MW were about to be commissioned in Spain.
Sharon said that large-scale deployment of CSP plants in South Africa, a country endowed with high levels of irradiation, could lead to the establishment of local support industries, thereby creating thousands of jobs.
“The amount of local content, which will require investment, will depend on the capacity to be installed and the degree of certainty regarding long-term market growth.
“Securing the future of the CSP industry in South Africa [equates to] investing in the future of the people of South Africa. Each technology has its pros and cons, and I think the current renewable-energy mix must be revised.”
Sharon also noted that South Africa’s renewable-energy feed-in tariff should be high enough to “ignite” the CSP market in South Africa.