A MULTIBILLION rand investment on wind energy by a Chinese firm is poised to avert power outages faced by companies in the Northern Cape and eventually, South Africa, as its electricity crisis continues.
Longyuan South Africa Renewables is behind the innovations and has to date invested R5,18 billion (US$273,2 million or ¥1,95 billion) towards installation of wind energy solutions in the De Aar town.
This is already feeding thousands of megawatts into the national grid, run by the beleaguered national power utility, Eskom.
Sheng Bin, Longyuan South Africa Renewables’ Safety Production and Technology Department Manager, presented data pertaining solely to the De Aar wind power project’s output.
This project has been generating approximately 760 million kilowatt-hours annually, a figure averaged over the last six years.
“I am confident that this production rate can be sustained moving forward,” he said in an exclusive interview with CAJ News Africa.
He added consequently, there is a strong possibility that the project in the Northern Cape town will generate a total of 7,6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in the coming decade.
According to energy researches, for South Africa to avoid worsening power outages, the country is required to upgrade or build new energy infrastructure, find alternative energy sources such wind, solar and green energy efficiency technologies aimed at reducing demand and outsourcing to independent power producers (IPP).
Longyuan South Africa Renewables, which successfully won the bids for De Aar 1 and De Aar 2 (North) wind power projects towards the end of 2013, officially commenced construction of the wind energy projects in late 2015 before the two projects passed the grid connection tests that achieved early generation.
Bin said his company is looking forward to new energy opportunities in order to grow the power supply to Eskom.
“We are keen on seeking opportunities to expand our renewable energy projects in South Africa,” the official said.
However, the progression of these projects faces challenges, making it difficult for his company to provide a concrete response at this moment, he said.
“Nonetheless, I remain optimistic and believe our aspiration to pursue this path is both enduring and constructive,” Bin added.
He hailed wind and solar energy as sources of power that represent abundant and renewable forms of energy found in nature.
Both wind and solar are abundant in South Africa.
The Northern Cape’s less complex topography makes it an attractive area for solar or wind projects.
“The exploitation of these sources, namely wind and solar energy, is free from pollution. This positions them as clean and eco-friendly alternatives,” Bin said.
The Longyuan South Africa manager, however, noted the wind energy project was not easy to maintain citing the complexities of the wind turbine system.
“Effective maintenance is challenging. Wind turbines are complex systems, integrating mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical parts,” he said.
During maintenance, the utmost importance is placed on safety, considering that the major components are positioned high above the ground, often dozens of metres up.
“Factors like working at such heights, along with the presence of strong winds and thunderstorms, greatly influence the maintenance process,” Bin said.
He also cited challenges associated with the wind energy generation, which he said sometimes power production increases or decreases depending on the wind blowing during the day in question, a development he pointed out would impact on daily electricity generation.
“In contrast to coal-fired power plants, wind energy faces a major challenge due to the variability of wind resources. This results in fluctuating electricity production from wind farms,” Bin explained.
A case in point is the De Aar wind power project. During months with high wind conditions, it can produce upwards of 80 million kilowatt-hours. However, in periods of low wind speeds, its output might drop to about 40 million kilowatt-hours.
“This disparity is quite pronounced,” said Bin.
With South Africa’s endowment with solar and wind energy sources, Bin believes the country has the capacity to increase generation of green energy that is dependable.
“Considering its (South Africa’s) expansive territory, I believe that integrating wind and solar power with energy storage systems presents an extremely efficient and promising strategy,” Bin said.
He said De Aar’s favourable winds and less corrosive dry climate made it an ideal site for Longyuan’s wind farms project sites.
“However, it is also an impoverished small South African town with decaying infrastructure and widespread poverty that brings its own set of challenges for business,” Bin added.
“Although the De Aar location is somewhat distant from major cities, it has its advantages, such as good wind resources, proximity to key power stations in the grid, and roads and other infrastructure that meet the requirements for project construction.”
Entrepreneurs interviewed by CAJ News Africa in Gauteng, North West and Northern Cape provinces praised the Chinese wind and solar energy initiatives.
“Small businesses here are forced to adjust operating hours to ensure they have accommodated the load shedding schedules,” said Kimberley entrepreneur Johannes Van Wyk.
“These power outages are making us lose business and the worst part of it, we cannot plan properly. Load shedding has exposed our businesses to robbery and theft due to darkness. We believe the Chinese wind and solar investment as a timeous solution.”
Van Wyk also bemoaned loss of internet connectivity and payment processing disruption as well ageing infrastructure.
De Aar farmer, Jacobus Coetzee, said: “The Chinese investments in wind and solar energy will help avert the rolling blackouts.”
Potchefstroom entrepreneur, Hendrik Louw, said: “I strongly believe had it not been for the independent power producers’ support rendered to national power utility – Eskom, especially the Chinese investments in wind and solar energy, otherwise the country’s economy would have completely collapsed. We hope for the better as we continue to witness new wind and solar energy expanding.”
Ethiopian entrepreneur based in Johannesburg, Gauteng, Ajani Assefa, lamented using lots of money on diesel and petrol for his enterprise to keep going during load shedding.
“Otherwise, these rolling blackouts are doing us much harm to our businesses. I pray that these solar and wind initiatives by the Chinese will turn around the country’s load shedding crisis.”
The severe power outages have immensely impacted the South African economy, resulting in industries closing down, a sharp decline in economic activity, and a ballooning rate of unemployment.
The crisis impacts badly on agriculture, healthcare, mining and education among other sectors.
from SAVIOUS KWINIKA in De Aar, Northern Cape
Northern Cape Bureau
– CAJ News