Challenges To The Large-Scale Deployment Of Renewable Energy In The Southern African Context

<p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Challenges to the large-scale deployment of renewable energy in the Southern African context</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">Rapid deployment of Renewable Energy (RE) is currently planned in Southern Africa. Due to the intermittent and localised nature of RE, the following challenges can be expected to the deployment of RE in the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP - Power pool stretching from the DRC in the North to the southern tip of Africa in the South):</p><ol style="text-align: justify;"><li>Transmission Expansion</li><li>Intermittency</li><li>Change in Generation areas</li></ol><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Transmission Expansion</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">The South African power utility, Eskom, is planning extensive Transmission Expansion to deal with the deployment of RE in parts of South Africa where no or little generation capacity was deployed in the past. The Eskom Transmission Development Plan (TDP - see https://www.eskom.co.za/Whatweredoing/TransmissionDevelopmentPlan/Pages/Transmission_Development_Plans.aspx) states that R 117 751 million needs to be spent to, among other things, integrate 31 649 MW of mostly RE into the South African Transmission grid.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">This is a huge task and as the TDP states: "Transmission&rsquo;s infrastructure for the IRP2019 to integrate ~ 30GW of new capacity would require an acceleration to the execution programme , hence placing huge demands on limited resources across the value chain (including suppliers and construction industry)" and "Capex curtailment and deferments over the years places huge pressure on the Transmission build programme ito &ldquo;back loading&rdquo; as well as on the sustainability of supplier and construction industry". In other words, if Eskom doesn't generate sufficient cash through tariffs or doesn't get money from elsewhere (e.g. Government), the TDP is not going to happen as planned and RE wouldn't be able to deliver power to the grid as planned.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Elsewhere in Southern Africa (e.g. Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe), the deployment of RE might be easier as the grid caters for loads at the end of long radial systems and any generation would just help alleviate localised voltage regulation or other technical issues being experienced currently. An example of this is the deployment of a Wind Farm close to Luderitz in Namibia. The Transmission infrastructure is largely in place to supply the town of Luderitz and mines in the area with power and the addition of the wind farm would mean less load needs to be supplied from the a large Transmission substation some 250 km away. It must, however, be said that the wind farm(s) being planned is relatively small (in the order of 40 MW). If a cluster of wind farms are, for example, planned for this area it would also necessitate large-scale upgrade of the Transmission network. Very weak networks (e.g. Northern Mozambique) would need significant upgrade of Transmission capacity to integrate large amounts of RE.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Intermittency</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">The intermittency of RE will become more and more of an issue as the share of intermittent RE is deployed. The graph on top of the article shows the Total Hourly RE generation in South Africa over the last month. From the graph, the intermittent nature of RE can be seen clearly. As an example, the peak RE generation on the 6th of November 2020 was close to 4000 MW at 13h00. By 23h00 it had fallen to about 550 MW. This is a difference of almost 3500 MW (equivalent to the entire generation at one of Eskom's large coal-fired power stations).</p><p style="text-align: justify;">In order to cater for this and future intermittency (which would be much bigger due to increased RE deployment), large amounts of storage would need to be installed. Only 2088 MW of battery storage is currently being planned in South Africa but this would need to be supported by large Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGT) or other peaking stations such as Pumped Storage (all very expensive either from a capital or operational point of view). If additional large projects such as the 5000 MW Solar PV being planned by Power Africa in collaboration with the Namibian and Botswana governments (see https://africa.cgtn.com/2020/08/22/namibia-botswana-to-build-5000-mw-solar-project/) realises, massive amounts of storage would be required to help cater for the intermittency of the RE being deployed.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Change in generation areas</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">As the traditional areas of power generation moves away from areas where fossil-fuel is abundant (e.g. North-Eastern part of South Africa and Eastern part of Botswana) to areas where RE sources are abundant (e.g. South-Western part of South Africa and Western part of Botswana) although these areas currently have limited Transmission and Distribution networks due to limited loads. This is challenging from both a technical but more so from a socio-economic point of view as the workforce previously deployed in the "fossil-fuel" areas would need to be re-deployed into other areas or new opportunities sought for this workforce where they are currently based (e.g. factories for RE technology to be sited in these areas). This is probably the most challenging issue to be resolved.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Conclusion</strong></p><p style="text-align: justify;">Although the issues of Transmission Capacity and Intermittency can be resolved from a technical point of view it remains to be seen whether sufficient funding and construction capacity will be available to develop the Southern African grid to such an extent that it is able absorb the huge amounts of RE that is planned in the foreseeable future. The success of the deployment of RE would largely hinge on the socio-economic issues related to the change in generation areas being addressed effectively.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">All being equal, the deployment of large-scale RE in Southern Africa presents both huge challenges and opportunities to those involved.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p>
KR Expert - Johan Bekker

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