For the last several years, from the wind industry’s perspective, the South African government has done everything it can to discourage investor confidence; however, that has changed with the new government, states Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
“Investor interest in South Africa is high, but cautious, owing to policy instability and uncertainty about the health of the economy,” GWEC senior policy adviser Steve Sawyer tells Engineering News, adding that the upcoming elections will be watched closely.
Although the draft Integrated Resource Plan 2018 (IRP 2018) is encouraging, he says it is flawed. “The major design problem of the latest IRP is the ‘gap’ in procurement between 2022 and 2025. This will just about kill off the prospects for developing a local supply chain and needs to be smoothed out over the coming period for the clear and stable growth of the sector to foster as much local manufacturing capacity as possible.”
The key elements needed to ensure the development of a good wind regime in South Africa are policy stability, clear visibility of the pipeline, investment in infrastructure and research and development, and the gradual adaptation of policy over time in full consultation with the industry, as well as the separation and privatisation of State-owned power utility Eskom’s different facets.
The Global Picture
Globally, South Africa’s wind energy sector ranked twenty-sixth as at the end of 2017. “It should be higher up, but the sector had a late start and the recent hiatus in development owing to Eskom’s shenanigans – refusal to sign new power purchase agreements for projects duly procured in early 2015 – hasn’t helped,” says Sawyer.
South Africa has excellent wind and solar resources and its outline policies on decarbonisation are solid. Therefore, the council believes the wind energy sector will again be a major driver of economic growth for the country. “However, the last several years of policy instability have added a note of caution.”
Although, Sawyer highlights that no country is perfect. “Policy stability is key; good examples in that regard would be Brazil and China, although each has its flaws, sometimes owing to direct policy changes and at other times macroeconomic changes. Germany and Denmark had much to recommend in the past, although that has deteriorated recently, particularly in Germany, owing to its reluctance to phase out its dirty lignite plants.”
The wind energy sector produced more than 1 100 TWh in 2017, with South Africa’s wind energy sector only contributing about 5 TWh, less than 1%, of the world total.
For the period, wind power still lagged hydropower, which produced about three times as much. But, wind energy outdid solar photovoltaic generated power, producing about three times as much and about 2.5 times as much power as biomass. Final global figures will be available next month, says Sawyer.
The outlook for the global wind energy market, according to the council’s latest market forecast for 2018 to 2022 published in March of this year, sees a yearly installed capacity growth rate in 2019 of 8.8%, 8.4% in 2020, 0.3% in 2021 and 6.3% in 2022. GWEC expects cumulative installations to reach 840 GW by the end of 2022.
Sawyer says the decline in 2021 is the result of “a big rush in 2020 to meet 2020 targets, particularly in Europe and North America, and to some extent in China, so some projects which would in the normal course of events come on line in 2021 will be rushed to completion to meet the deadline.”
Besides climate change, Sawyer says factors influencing the uptake of wind power globally include economics, as it is the cheapest way for several countries to add new generation capacity to their national grids; macroeconomics, as it relieves countries of the foreign exchange burden associated with imported fossil fuels; and air quality, owing to its replacement of thermal combustion and subsequent reduction in air pollution.
Sawyer further highlights countries’ need to build new industries for job creation, as well as to attract investment and potentially export products to other countries, to contribute to their overall economic growth and development. “Wind and other renewables are the future – enlightened governments know this and invest.”
The youngest wind energy sector is currently Argentina, with the market just beginning to take off in terms of installations in 2018, while the US is the oldest, with the first commercial wind farm constructed in 1980.
Technological Development Drivers
“Decreasing the levelised cost of electricity is the main driver for all technological advancements in the industry, especially as market competition continually increases, and wind power has matured to the point where it is directly market competitive now,” explains Sawyer.
Larger, more reliable turbines, with higher capacity factors are the main innovations, as is the customising of turbines to fit a specific site. This involves combining a rotor diameter and generator size that will extract the maximum amount of energy from a particular wind regime.
Offshore, GWEC says bigger is better, highlighting the 10 MW machines on the market introduced by Denmark-based wind turbine manufacturer Vestas and the promise of a 12 GW machine from US-based technology company General Electric early next decade. “More will come. More sophisticated power electronics and management have made wind turbines much more grid-friendly, and they can now contribute to grid stability through low- and high-voltage ride-through, reactive power and frequency control.”
One of the newest innovations is the use of light detection and ranging for fine tuning pitch and yaw adjustments by measuring the wind a few hundred meters out from the turbine. GWEC also points out the use of Doppler radar for mapping the wind flow over an entire site at the design stage to reduce wake effects and turbulence when wind turbines are operational.
While the South African market has not yet been large enough to attract international turbine or major component manufacturers, Sawyer says there was the beginning of a local supply chain developing in 2015. “However, the Eskom-induced policy hiatus put paid to that, and most of those companies withered on the vine, although some may recover now.
“South Africa has developed some excellent project developers, which have all had to struggle through difficult times, but hopefully will emerge stronger,” concludes GWEC.