South Africa’s energy demand “will grow exponentially” as South Africa further eases Covid-19-related restrictions and the strain on electricity supply experienced prior to the pandemic will likely return.
This “will have massive implications” and likely have a compounding effect as the country tries to stabilise the economy after the pandemic, Cape Town-based wind farm developer G7 Renewable Energies project manager Veronique Fyfe says.
Fyfe is South Africa’s ambassador for the Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme and deputy chairman of the South African Wind Energy Association Environmental Working group.
It is therefore essential, she emphasises, that the focus on renewable energy “is not pushed to the wayside”, as wind farm development and renewable energy development as a whole will allow South Africa to "ensure a sustainable energy future” and meet the targets as set out in the Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP 2019).
According to the IRP 2019, wind will represent 17 742 MW of installed energy capacity in the country by 2030.
When the humanitarian crisis has passed, the country will again face energy supply constraints that contributed to the country's muted economic growth prior to the Covid-19 pandemic reaching local shores.
Investing in renewables is, therefore, critical to ensure the economy is able to grow in the future.
Fyfe points out that the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) has, so far, attracted about R210-billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), while R27-billion has been committed to social economic development initiatives.
She adds that it is estimated that the deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind will contribute up to 110 000 jobs over the next decade, “which may be directed to help restore the job losses experienced” as a result of the Covid-19-related lockdown.
“It is important that the cheapest form of new energy is deployed for South Africa,” Fyfe says, “and the IRP 2019 has clearly demonstrated that renewable energy is the most affordable option”.
Renewable energy prices have dropped by almost 59% since the first bidding round of the REIPPPP, and once the National Energy Regulator of South Africa gives the go-ahead, the wind industry is set develop about 6 800 MW of capacity between 2022 and 2025.
“This will assist in rebuilding the economy in terms of providing new electricity and creating jobs,” she states.
The Internal Energy Agency (IEA) and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) have previously expressed views that this "is a unique opportunity to embark on a new future with clean energy” and to avoid climate change impact.
Fyfe mentions that, according to these organisations, “the renewable energy industry has been the most resilient during Covid-19” and that, looking into the future “Covid-19 presents itself as an opportunity to accelerate localisation”.
“Renewable energies in South Africa contribute to localisation and in particular with large and regular procurement rounds as currently planned in the latest IRP 2019, along with expected changes in supply chains following Covid-19, it is the best moment to reinforce and launch localisation to strengthen the country’s energy independence.”
The IEA indicates that “renewable energy has so far been the energy source most resilient to Covid-19 lockdown measures” and that “renewable energy has largely been unaffected”.
Fyfe further mentions to Engineering News that the IEA also estimates that, for this year, renewable energy demand is likely to increase by about 1% from levels in 2019, in contrast to other energy sources that are likely to contract.
Renewable electricity generation will grow by nearly 5% despite the supply chain and construction delays caused by the Covid-19 crisis. In doing so, renewables almost reach 30% of electricity supply globally, halving the gap with coal by ten percentage points, according to the IEA.
GWEC, meanwhile, has called wind power a “key building block” for economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19, which will enable governments to renew critical infrastructure for a sustainable future.
In this regard, the wind industry is set to help deliver the jobs, clean and affordable power and energy security needed for a sustainable economic recovery, GWEC says.
Further, environmentalist and sustainable development practitioner Kelly Grace Alcock laments that “Covid-19 has shown huge social and economic impacts”.
Alcock is also a participant in the second edition of the GWEC's Women in Wind Global Leadership Program.
She notes that “poverty has deepened, the need for food and food insecurity has become a complex problem and fast”, adding that unemployment has increased and will increase dramatically, exacerbating citizens’ fears about having nothing to eat, or not knowing where to find basic necessities.
Commenting on how the wind industry could assist in mitigating Covid-19's impact in South Africa, Alcock notes that the industry “could provide food, water relief and sanitisers” through sustainable socioeconomic initiatives and programmes, especially in rural communities where wind energy facilities are located.
This is not to say the industry has not already contributed to the fight against Covid-19 and the resultant economic impact on communities.
The Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm, for example, bought and delivered a 20-foot refrigerator container to the Kouga municipality just before the start of lockdown.
The container is situated at the Humansdorp Fire station, Covid-19 Joint Operations Control, and is being used as the central collection, storage and distribution point for the Kouga Municipal Food Parcel and fresh food items.
In addition to this, the Umoya Energy Wind Farm has confirmed its support for and funding of the feeding schemes at Louwville High School, in Vredenburg, as well as the Middelpos Primary School, in Saldanha Bay.
This means that over 400 learners, who come from vulnerable West Coast families, will receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch for the school calendar year.
Thanks to the permission granted to the Peninsula School Feeding Programme by the Department of Social Development, the feeding programme will not be halted even though schools aren’t operating yet.