The use of the "lesser-known" renewable energy, biomass gasification, could greatly assist the development of private power in South Africa, which is likely to face a second wave of rolling black outs by 2011, a Frost & Sullivan analyst said.
The consulting firm's energy and power systems research analyst Ross Bruton said that biomass gasification provided an attractive solution for renewable power generation, owing to its low carbon emissions and its ability to recycle municipal or industrial waste products as feedstock.
The technology uses the incomplete combustion of organic materials to produce a gas consisting of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen and water, referred to as producer gas. This producer gas can be used for the production of biofuels or power generation through the firing of a gas engine, gas turbine or steam turbine boiler systems.
Bruton acknowledged that it was expensive to develop biomass gasification systems and that feedstock processing costs added greater overheads, but he said that the infrastructure payback period could be limited to three years, assuming secure availability of feedstock.
"Further cost savings could also be achieved through mitigating losses that would be incurred through increased national electricity tariffs and unpredictable load shedding, making biomass gasification an attractive option for private power generation within the country."
The use of biomass generation also allowed industry to benefit from renewable energy feed-in tariffs offered by government, as well as the awarding of clean development mechanism (CDM) credits for trade in the international CDM market.
Bruton noted that the government had confirmed that the systems operations and planning division within State-owned power utility Eskom would be the designated buyer of power arising from the ‘first phase' of renewable energy projects that would be selected in the coming months through a competitive bidding process. The bidding process could begin next month, with initial transactions being finalised during the first half of 2011.
In the draft second integrated resources plan, or IRP2010, government has set aside about 420 MW as part of the medium-term power purchase programme for the development of the independent power producer market with the country for the 2010 to 2012 period.
Further, an additional 400 MW was set aside for wind power development and 325 MW for the development of other renewable energy.
Through these programmes, the Department of Energy hopes to incentivise the development of 700 MW of wind power and 617 MW of power from cogeneration by 2013.
By 2030, renewable energy is expected to account for 16% of the total generation mix of the country, which currently produces about 90% of its power from coal. By 2030, coal would account for 48% of the power mix.
Bruton said that while the market for biomass gasification as a power producing technology within South Africa was still at its infancy stage, macroenvironmental factors in the country's electricity industry were driving the potential implementation of the technology.