Can Southern-African countries afford to ignore renewable energy

The potential for renewable energy in Sub-Saharan Africa is staggering. Solar, alone, could provide more than 10TW of new capacity and wind 109GW. By tapping into these resources, there would be a 27% reduction in carbon emissions, from 695Mt per year of CO2 to 507Mt per year by 2040, and a reduction in fuel costs due to the reliance on wind and solar instead of oil and gas. 

South Africa remains the dominant participant in the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP). While its limited generation capacity has had an adverse impact on the interconnected grids of member countries, its current and future energy planning points to the future of base-load planning.

Coal-fired power stations, such as Medupi, spearheaded by state-owned electricity utility, Eskom, highlight the important role that cleaner coal technologies have to play in the overall energy mix.

As the owner’s engineer for Eskom on the Medupi project, we are providing full project management services, engineering co-ordination and contract management for 38 contracts making up the power station contract.

This work is complemented by our involvement in the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme, another large power-related mega project underway in South Africa that will provide important peaking capability to the grid.

Our team was engaged as sub-consultants to the Braamhoek Consultants Joint Venture to design the reversible pump turbines, generator motors and their transformers and associated station auxiliary systems and scheme controls.

These projects, together with the planned rollout of a host of IPP coal-related power stations in the country, serve as examples for other countries that intend using their rich coal resources for power production in a sustainable manner. These include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania.

We have already assisted a proposed coal IPP producer in South Africa to prepare its bid to develop a 600MW power plant in the country. However, it is the country’s known intention to significantly upgrade its nuclear capacity that also reflects the longer-term energy outlook of many African energy planners.

Governments of Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria have also entered into memorandums of understanding with a prominent vendor of nuclear technology to assist them in developing this sophisticated capability in their countries. They acknowledge the important role that this clean form of base-load energy generation can play in diversifying their energy mix. For many countries on the continent, it will also help mitigate the devastating impact that drought has had on the generation capacities of hydropower infrastructure.

Jay Urban, Director, Power Generation, WSP Africa says there is still a lot of debate on whether South Africa can afford these plants and, with this, there is a lot of uncertainty on this programme that needs to be clarified.

While South Africa may have taken the lead in terms of pushing these ambitious projects through the development phases, it is its counterparts elsewhere on the continent that are further ahead in terms of exploiting another, cleaner base-load fuel source.