South Africa: Advances in Getting Solar Onto the Grid, and Into the Home


The need to move to solar energy seems a logical choice. Most areas in South Africa get around 2500 hours of sunshine per year.

The southern African region and the whole of Africa has sunshine throughout the year. The annual 24-hour global solar radiation averageis about 220W/m² for South Africa, compared with about 150W/m² for parts of the US, and about 100W/m² for Europe.

So, harnessing the sun as a source of energy has major benefits. There could be long-term economic sustainability, zero contribution to greenhouse emissions and less dependence on the electrical grid. It also cushions electricity tariff hikes for the poor and helps to create local industrie.

Ignoring this renewable source for the grid as well as for homes in radiation-rich countries, like South Africa, is short-sighted.

How to tap into the power of the sun

The technologies used to harness solar radiation can be divided into two categories – active systems and passive systems. Passive systems are used in building design to capture, store and distribute the solar energy through the use of building structures – windows, orientation, etc.

In active solar systems the solar radiation can be used for the direct or indirect heating of water through solar heaters as well as the direct generation of electrical energy (photovoltaic technologies) and indirect generation of electricity through concentrated solar power combined with electrical turbines.

The energy of a number of fully functional solar generation sources are currently being fed into South Africa’s electricity grid, including those derived from Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power.

By 2030, South Africa’s electricity plan hopes that 17.8GW, or 42% of the total electrical energy mix, will be allocated to renewable energy, including wind (8.4 GW), solar PV (8.4 GW) and concentrated solar power (one GW).

The case for standalone solar units

While there has been an increase in the use of solar technologies for overall electrical grid generation, there has been less progress in getting small-scale concentrated solar power-based technologies into homes.

The South African government’s national solar heater programme began in 2010 with the major objective being the reduction of demand on the electricity grid.

The programme targeted the installation of one million solar heaters by 2015 – with an additional four million units by 2030. To date, approximately 400,000 installations have been completed.

Another opportunity is offering households solar cookers. Around three billion people across the world cook and heat their homes using open fires and stoves burning biomass. As a result they are exposed to health damaging pollutants. If solar cookers were used even only for a few hours a day, it would make a huge difference.

The first documented use of solar for cooking purposes was made over 240 years ago. Although various designs have been in the market for the last 20 years, the uptake of these solar cookers has been slow. There are a number of reasons for this.

The most common solar cookers use a reflective paraboloid or dish to concentrate the solar radiation onto a focal point. Mild steel is commonly used in the manufacture of the collector and its supporting structure.

Collector sizes range from upwards of one metre in diameter – the larger the diameter the higher the temperature at the focal point. The manufacturing process involved in making the collector, coupled with the cost of the material, adds to the relatively high retail price of the unit. Alternative designs using so-called trough collectors are cheaper to manufacture but are not as efficient as paraboloid designs.

Traditional units have to be continuously monitored and adjusted by the user as the sun tracks across the sky – a tedious operation when one is concentrating on cooking. In addition, temperature control within these units is non-existent.

Since these cookers are seen as novelty items, their widespread availability is limited. In South Africa, conventional units can be bought via an online portal, not an ideal outlet if aimed at the off-grid market.

Design advances

A new automated solar oven with a solar-powered generator has been designed. The device can be used off-the-grid. It can be used to boil water, cook food and generate electricity.

The new design addresses two key design challenges: it has an automated sun tracking controller. Its energy usage can be controlled. This enables the device to be used elsewhere – for example, in the sterilisation of portable water and medical instruments.

A conventional solar cooker needs to be positioned towards the sun to get the most solar radiation. This manual adjustment makes it difficult for the temperature to be controlled. This makes cooking certain meals, such as ones left to simmer, difficult.

The new design has two control systems. One tracks the position of the sun. The other ensures that the temperature of the cooking implement is in the range set by the user.

Timing options, timed cooking profiles and safety features have also been built in to reduce the possibility of accidental burns.

The prototype device was also used to provide electricity generation though the use of small PV panels and a heat engine.

The advances in design have been internationally recognised. Both contributors to this article and a group of five engineering students from Cape Peninsula University of Technology involved in the project won first prize in the 2015 International Automation Competition in the Environment and Renewable Energy category.

Cutting the cost

Plans are underway to develop the unit for commercialisation. The goal is to produce an automated mid-sized cooker (1.6-metre diameter) to sell for around US$120.

There are also plans to look at options for the device to be used for sterilising potable water and other heating applications. And it can also be used for producing electricity.

But in a spirit of making a difference to society, it is envisaged that the project team will engage with municipalities and non-governmental organisations for possible subsidisation of widescale use of these solar products in poorer communities not currently on the grid.

Disclosure statement

Dr. Wilfred Fritz is the team leader of the group that devised the automated solar cooker. Subsequently CPUT made funding available to develop the product for commercialisation. The next step is sourcing funding for mass production.

Deon Kallis is part of the team that devised the automated solar cooker and is involved in the current commercialisation of the unit.

Source: allafrica

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Changing the way business is done: A critical review of two South African integrated reports

By: Carol Adams

The potential of integrated reporting to drive changes in the way business does business lies in its focus on long- term strategic planning, the multiple capital concept and its potential to change how we define value. A focus on short-term financial value is increasingly being seen as bad for business, let alone society and our natural resources.

Changing the way business leaders and their investors think is a prerequisite for real change towards social, environmental and economic sustainability. A focus on the longer term and thinking about value in non-monetary terms, means thinking about people, relationships, know- how and the natural environment and how they create value, rather than just what they cost or how we impact on them. And a reading of the best South African integrated reports reveals a concerted effort to think about the business differently.

It is pleasing to see reports which highlight key non-financial performance indicators, along with financial indicators right up front. For example, in Sasol’s case these include environment, safety and equity measures and, in the case of greenhouse gas emissions (only) a quantified long-term (2020) target. It is also exciting to see reports which talk about values and goals in broad terms and analyse the context in which the business is operating, its risks, including reputation risk, and opportunities.

Some of the reports available, such as Sasol’s 2013 annual integrated report, attempt to follow the IIRC’s consultation draft, but they all predate the recently released International <IR> Framework (IIRC, 2013 and Adams 2013). Yet they provide many learnings for companies new to integrated reporting.

Sasol explicitly acknowledges the link between values and behaviour:

“Our shared values define what we stand for as an organisation and inform our actions and our behaviour. They determine the way in which we interpret and respond to business opportunities and challenges.”
-Sasol Annual Integrated Report 2013 p7

So what behaviours is Sasol aiming to nurture? A focus on people, relationships and long term value for those connected with the company: “To grow profitably, sustainably and inclusively, while delivering value to stakeholders through technology and the talent of our people in the energy and chemical markets in Southern Africa and worldwide…our common goal To make Sasol a great company that delivers long-term value to its shareholders and employees; a company that has a positive association for all stakeholders”. -Sasol Annual Integrated Report 2013 p6

‘Sustainably’ in this case might mean both “environmental sustainability and longevity: “We also remain acutely aware of the environmental impact of extending our operations to 2050. We are working on initiatives to mitigate greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as well as on those related to air quality and water stewardship.” -Sasol Annual Integrated Report 2013 p27.

Social and environmental issues feature prominently in ‘top issues impacting our business’ (page 30), but neither here, nor in ‘Looking towards 2050’(page 27) is there any mention of the carbon bubble. Should there be? Well, it has been getting quite a lot of attention, it may impact on value to investors (and employees and stakeholders) and integrated reporting requires identification of material issues and discussion of the context in which a company is operating including risks and opportunities. So, yes, I think there should be a discussion on the likelihood of a carbon bubble impacting on future value.

Sasol appears to see the fight as being with regulators. “Risk of climate change and related policies impacting Sasol’s operations growth strategy and earnings” is identified as a regulatory risk (page 47) with possible regulatory interventions identified as carbon taxes, product carbon labelling, carbon budgets and carbon-related border tax adjustments linked to bilateral agreements.Sasol discusses efforts to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, but also notes it is engaging in “co-ordinated regulatory intervention”(page 47). In the context of its concern about the cost of such interventions, this would appear to mean trying to stop them, a move unlikely to be in the interests of protecting natural capital.

The report has been ranked highly (see EY, 2013) and indeed, I did get the feeling that there had been some considerable ‘integrated thinking’, demonstrated by the discussion on value, strategy and the business model. But I was left wondering if all the reported activity around reducing carbon emissions was an attempt to hide the elephant in the room (the carbon bubble) and delay regulation. Of course, I should not be surprised by this (see Adams, 2004 and Adams and Whelan, 2009), but I am disappointed to see integrated reporting used in this way.

On the positive side, Sasol has identified how each stakeholder contributes to value creation (pages 38-9) along with more commonly provided information on how they engage with each stakeholder group, what their expectations are etc. The process of determining materiality set out at the front of the report involved consulting stakeholders amongst other steps.

The Standard Bank Group (SBG) does not suffer the same perception that the nature of its business is fundamentally unsustainable, as some would have of Sasol, but banks come up against scrutiny with regard to the nature of the projects they fund, and they are generally mistrusted by many. Demonstrating a contribution to creating value for the societies they depend on and diligence with regard to the environmental impacts of the projects they fund is therefore critical for their long term success. The Standard Bank Group appears to do this better than many. The real proof of course comes in information about the nature of loans made.

The reader of SBG’s annual integrated report is left with the feeling that the bank sees its success as inextricably linked with its relationship to society. For example, socioeconomic development and provision of sustainable and responsible financial services are identified as material issues.

“The bank aims to embed sustainability thinking into its business processes there are a number of determinants of materiality, including the bank’s values and accountability and responsibility for sustainable development rests with the board” -SBG’s annual integrated report p 46.

The report includes a value added statement (page 49), information on stakeholder engagement processes and explains its approach to environmental and social risk screening. Sustainability risk is explicitly mentioned alongside other operational risks (page 90).

Another strength of the SBG report is its disclosure on remuneration of it executives. Some are not so bold. One of the Guiding Principles of the International <IR> Framework is ‘conciseness’.

At around 130 (Sasol) and 180 (SBG) pages, neither report examined here can be said to fulfil that, but they contain information including financial and governance information which goes beyond the Framework’s content elements.

Source: The Sustainability and Integrated Reporting Handbook

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21st Century Coal – Report: International Energy Agency

Green Business Journal 9 (2013)

Coal: currently supplying more than 40 percent of the world electricity consumption, providing an essential 70 percent input of world steel production, and representing approximately 30 percent of the global primary energy supply. Why is coal such a widely utilised resource today? It is cheap, abundant, easily accessible, widely distributed across the globe, and easy energy to transport, store and use. For these reasons, coal is predicted to be used extensively in the future. But, being a non-renewable resource, its production and use inevitably results in various issues across the value chain.

The primary mandate of the International Energy Agency (IEA) is to promote energy security amongst its member countries through collective response to physical disruptions in oil supply, and to provide authoritative research and analysis on ways to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond.

In doing so, a report was researched and created by IEA which focuses on the technology path to near-zero emissions (NZE). The phrase “21st Century Coal” was adopted by the US and China to describe the importance of strategic international partnerships to advance the development of NZE technology and the report demonstrates the reasons for confidence in coal’s ability to provide a solution to the global objectives of economic sustainability, energy security, and NZE, and is broken up into four areas of consideration.

1. Coal and the CO2 challenge

Discussed here are the benefits of and the need for coal, issues associated with coal use especially related to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as well as roadmaps to improve coal use and continue on a path toward zero emissions. With the increase in the global demand for energy comes the increase in the release of CO2 emissions. The IEA has found that with attempting to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the costs of achieving climate goals are significantly reduced when carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technologies are implemented. This, along with increasing the thermal efficiency, can effectively lower carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. The development and deployment of advanced coal with CCS technologies that is needed to achieve substantial carbon emission reductions will require extensive research, development, and demonstration investment.

2. Evaluation of advanced coal-fuelled electricity generation technologies

The IEA report provides insights into groundbreaking technology innovations for advanced coal plants to improve efficiency and reduce emissions including CO2. The report finds that there are multiple types of coal-fueled power plant technologies that exist or are being developed, but considerable advancement still needs to take place in this regard. More advanced, future technologies are definitely capable of further improving efficiency. In particular, fuel cells hold the potential of achieving increases in efficiency of up to 60 percent.

3. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS)

Focus is drawn to the potential for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to enable the economic viability of CCS, together with the need for and status of CCUS demonstrations. CCS demonstrations are needed most often on power plants as these plants play major roles in releasing carbon emissions. But, significant government support is needed for these demonstrations to be carried out. The utilisation of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) seems to be the way forward as additional streams of revenue assists the feasibility and capability of the projects. The IEA has found that methods to increase carbon storage in conjunction with EOR may further increase the capacity to store.

4. Flexibility of coal-fuelled power plants for dynamic operation and grid stability

The essential features of fossil fuelled power plants are assessed on their ability to operate dynamically on grids with intermittent wind and solar. Improving the flexibility of existing and developing coal plants can be accomplished through various strategies which involve both technical and operational improvements. These include implementing coal plant flexibility as early in the design process as possible, when it is most effective; optimising use of the capabilities of existing control systems; and collecting and using lessons learned to establish better operating practices.


It is technically possible today to incorporate equipment to capture CO2 in all types of new coal fuelled power plants. Depending on available space and other considerations, such equipment also can be retrofitted to existing coal fuelled plants. The importance of retrofit should not be underestimated based on the large number of new coal units being added.

Unfortunately, today’s CO2 capture technology is very costly. A recent review by the IEA of a variety of engineering studies conducted by a range of organisations that showed the cost of electricity from a new coal power plant with CO2 capture was estimated to be from 40 to 89 percent higher than a new coal plant without CO2 capture.

Ultimately, in order to get over the hurdle and achieve the cost reductions brought by technology maturity, it will be necessary for governments to specifically support CCS demonstration projects with capital grants as well as support for the power prices. Even if additional revenues can be obtained from the sale of CO2 for EOR, they may not be sufficient to allow full financing in all cases.

While coal use remains significant, its continued use has been challenged by growing environmental concerns, particularly related to increases in anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Adding technologies that can reduce CO2 emissions from coal (primarily by using CCS or CCUS) is possible but adds considerable cost, risk, and complexity to coal fuelled power plants, particularly at their current stages of maturity.

Coal remains an important and prevalent fuel for the production of electricity. Its low cost, abundance, and broad distribution make it attractive for power production, particularly in emerging countries such as China and India, where coal fuelled power has increased dramatically in recent years as demand for energy and the higher standard of living it brings have grown along with the population.