Spanish technology group Sener, which has overseen the construction of three concentrated solar power (CSP) projects in South Africa and 29 in total internationally, is urging the South African government to reconsider CSP’s exclusion from the final version of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).
Sener Southern Africa regional MD Siyabonga Mbanjwa believes a specific policy adjustment should be made to the IRP to cater for the carbon-free technology, despite the fact that CSP plants, which can operate even when the sun sets, currently generate electricity at tariffs higher than those outlined in the least-cost mix favoured in the draft IRP 2018.
Currently, the only policy deviations from a least-cost IRP relate to the inclusion of two private coal-fired power stations already procured by the Department of Energy, as well as a plan to import 2 500 MW of Grand Inga power in line with a treaty between South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Otherwise the draft IRP 2018, which has been subjected to public consultation, envisages the least-cost new-build combination of wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) and gas meeting South Africa electricity demand to 2030, notwithstanding the closure of several coal-fired power stations during the period.
The draft IRP, therefore, does not cater for the building of additional CSP power stations besides those already procured through various Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme bid windows, including one dedicated exclusively to the technology.
Sener has been an active engineering, procurement and construction participant in three South African CSP projects including: the 50 MW Bokpoort plant, which has been in operation for three years; the 100 MW Ilanga 1 CSP power station, which entered commercial operation on November 30; and the 100 MW Kathu 1 CSP project, which has been synchronised to the grid and is scheduled to enter into commercial operation during the first quarter of 2019.
Mbanjwa contends that the IRP has seemingly “ignored” the advantages of CSP. He lists these as including the technology’s ability to supply reliable and carbon-free energy, as well as relatively large localisation, industrialisation and job creation spin-offs.
CSP’s exclusion, he warns, could also result in “unintended consequences”, such as wasting the opportunity to implement “shovel ready” and lower-cost CSP projects bid as part of the now cancelled Bid Window 4.5.
In addition, South Africa runs the risk of loosing the specialist CSP knowledge and research capabilities that have been fostered since construction began on the first CSP projects in 2013.
Sener is, therefore, advocating for Energy Minister Jeff Radebe to introduce a policy adjustment to the final IRP through which the 1 050 MW allocated to CSP in IRP 2010 is maintained.
To lower costs, the company proposes that any new procurement process introduce “aggressive but realistic tariff caps for all technologies”, including CSP. In addition, it argues that CSP/PV hybrid plants should be allowed as an option in future bid windows to further reduce the cost of solar electricity that can be produced cheaply during the day and dispatched during the evening peak.
The South African government has already introduced an incentive for CSP plants with storage to produce during peak periods, by allowing them to charge 200% more for electricity dispatched during peak times when compared with their standard daytime tariff.
Mbanjwa stresses that Sener is in South Africa to stay regardless of the outcome published in the final IRP. This is not only because it has long-term operation and maintenance contracts at some local CSP plant, but because it is also keenly interested in South Africa’s gas-to-power prospects. The draft IRP has allocated more than 8 000 MW to gas-fired electricity for the period 2019 to 2030.