Ireland-based developer already in process of delivering about 850MW of wind and solar power in the country.
Mainstream Renewable Power looks set to secure its latest round of South African contract wins, after it was awarded preferred bidder status for 250MW of wind energy projects as part of a government tender.
A consortium led by the Irish wind and solar company was last week awarded the status for two projects by the country’s Department of Energy, paving the way for about €420m (£308m) of fresh investment in the country’s fast-expanding renewable energy sector.
The 140MW Kangnas Wind Farm in the Northern Cape and the 110MW Perdekraal East Wind Farm located in the Western Cape add to the 848MW of wind and solar projects Mainstream has been awarded under the South African government tender programme since 2011.
The latest deals underline Mainstream’s position as the most successful developer in the tender programme, having secured move development contracts than any other player in the market.
In addition to the two projects awarded this month, Mainstream is currently building three wind farms in South Africa’s Northern Cape, totalling 360MW, which were awarded under Round 3 of the programme. And last year the company delivered three wind and solar facilities into commercial operation in South Africa under the first round of the programme.
Barry Lynch, Mainstream’s managing director for onshore procurement, construction and operations, said green energy ticks three “important boxes” for South Africa.
“First, the cost of these projects is now cheaper than new coal-fired generation. Second, they can be brought into commercial operation at the speed required and third, they meet the scale needed to address the country’s growing electricity demand,” he said. “Mainstream is once again delighted to be able to play a leading role in South Africa’s burgeoning renewable energy sector.”
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Talking millions and billions
However, he says that nuclear power is not economically viable due to high costs needed to construct and maintain plants. “The cost to build a nuclear power station varies in each country. In the United States for example, a nuclear reactor could cost around $10 billion and repairs can also amount to millions of dollars. At the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona in the US, last year, a leak inside the reactor cost $10 million to $15 million to repair. Solar farms on the other hand, are far more economical as the cost to build ranges between $300 million and $500 million and all that is needed is a large piece of land which receives a vast amount sunlight.”
Furthermore, Chien says that the running costs of electricity generated by a nuclear power plant are far higher than electricity generated from photovoltaic solar energy, as nuclear power plants run throughout the day and night, and according to the Brookings Institution, an American research NGO, they are 75% more expensive to build and run per MW of capacity than a solar-power plant.
Therefore continuing to operate nuclear plants prevents the large-scale integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid.” Chien refers to research conducted by Greenpeace, which states that nuclear also channels investment away from renewables where investment can make a difference in fighting climate change and that renewables can replace several times more of the carbon that is leading to climate change – for the same cost as nuclear and at a far faster pace.
Health and environmental risks
Chien adds that the health and environmental risks associated with nuclear power are also extremely high, especially for those who work in and live in close proximity to plants. “Nuclear power produces toxic waste which can be detrimental to people’s health, as well as the environment. Furthermore, the risk of a nuclear accident like that of the Fukushima meltdown exists and it is crucial to consider because of the effects, including increased levels of radiation in the area and contaminated food and water.”
“An indication that South Africa is heading in the right direction to overcome the energy crisis by means of an environmentally friendly, safer and more economical way, includes the rollout of Kalkbult solar plant in the Northern Cape, a Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme project, which can already produce enough electricity to be consumed by approximately 33 000 households, lessening the carbon footprint in the area,”
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The East African region is leading the continent’s charge to embrace renewable energy, including solar, geothermal and wind power.
Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda are investing heavily in these forms of clean energy and moving away traditional hydropower sources as demand for power continues to surge and economies grow.
Countries lying on the Great Rift Valley, known for its huge geothermal power potential, are investing heavily in resource prospecting, with Kenya leading in both exploration and development. East Africa is also geographically located in the tropics, which equates to big solar potential.
“Countries in the east African region have realized the benefits of embracing renewable energy and many have drafted and put in place policy documents to guide exploitation of clean energy,” said Pavel Oimeke, director of renewable energy at Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). “Many countries have also developed legislation that could see a major take-off of the sub-sector. And with funds being available, this region should see huge investments in exploitation of natural resources for power production.”
The tiny country of Rwanda is leading in solar energy, with an 8.5-MW solar farm that was commissioned in 2014. The $24 million farm in Agahozo has 2,800 solar panels. Though this may seem small compared to American or European standards, it accounts for 7 percent of the country’s installed power capacity.
Ethiopia leads in wind power with its 120-MW Ashegoda wind farm located in the north of the country, which was built in 2013. Ethiopia is already producing another 51 MW from wind generated from two different sites in the south of the capital Addis Ababa.
In Kenya, private investor Greenmillenia Energy Limited is developing a 40-MW solar plant in the north of the country that is expected to start feeding electricity to the national by grid mid-2015. Greenmillenia has applied for a generation license from the Kenya’s energy regulator ERC.
According to the World Bank, Kenya has nearly 1,000 MW of wind capacity potential, but currently only a meager 6 MW is installed on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi. However, the country is developing what will become Africa’s largest wind farm, the 300-MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which is expected to be completed in 2019. The $686 million project is financed through a consortium led by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Kenya leads the geothermal power sector with 350 MW of capacity, and according to the ERC, Kenya has more than 10,000 MW of geothermal resource potential. Extensive resource survey work is currently taking place to the west of Nairobi.
East Africa is also investing heavily in microgrid technology in order to provide energy access to the more than 75 percent of the population that currently lives without electricity, according to international development agency Practical Action. A major part of this microgrid solution is in the use of solar energy including off-grid solar photovoltaics (PVC), according to Denise Umubyeyi, finance and business development manager at Practical Action East Africa.
“Investment in micro and mini grids plus use of solar PVC could greatly increase both penetration and access to power for millions of people,” said Umubyeyi, “and this is where governments, private sector and development partners should direct their energies.”
Source: Renewable Energy World