South Africa, the most industrialized country in Africa, is highly dependent on conventional fuels which make it one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Coal provides around 75% of the fossil fuel demand and accounts for 90% of power generation in the country. A smooth transition to a low-carbon society requires diversification of energy resources to other energy forms, especially renewable energy.
The country is endowed with abundant sunshine, good wind regimes and attractive biomass feedstocks which could provide sufficient means to replenish energy supplies and counter environmental degradation. The renewable resource with the greatest potential in South Africa is solar energy. The total area of high radiation in South Africa amounts to approximately 194,000 km2, including the Northern Cape, one of the best solar resource areas in the world. South Africa has average daily solar radiation of between 4.5 and 6.5 kWh per m2. Solar thermal heating is the predominant mode of solar energy utilization in South Africa.
Eskom is building a 100MW concentrated solar (CSP) power project in Upington (Northern Cape) with financial assistance from the World Bank. The Clinton Climate Initiative is partnering with the Department of Energy to set up a solar park in the Northern Cape, which will add 5GW to South Africa’s electricity generation. Siemens is also currently conducting a feasibility study on a possible 210 MW CSP plant in the Northern Cape to possibly come online by 2014 and the Industrial Development Corporation is also investigating a CSP demonstration plan. To sum up, there are about 600 MW of CSP projects in different stages of development, with 75 percent of these able to deploy by 2013. In addition, Eskom is constructing a 1,350 MW pumped storage facility to be operational by 2013.
South Africa has one of the highest wind potential in the region with the best areas being the Western Cape and parts of the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape. The wind power potential in South Africa is estimated at 80.54 TWh which can be realized with an installed capacity of about 30.6 GW. At present, there are two operational wind projects in the country – 3.2MW Klipheuwel Wind Energy Demonstration Facility (KWEDF) and 5.2MW Darling Wind Farm. The announcement of the Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff has evoked good interest among IPPs with projects underway accumulate to about 1,100 MW of capacity.
South Africa has tremendous biofuel potential when considering the capacity to grow total plant biomass (all lignocellulosic plant biomass. According to conservative estimates, South Africa produces about 18 million tonnes of agricultural and forestry residues every year. However, the only real activity has been US$437 million investment by the South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in two biofuels projects that will collectively produce 190 million litres of bioethanol from sugarcane and sugarbeet.
Another important biomass energy sector is biogas-from-waste which can potentially generate more than 200 MW of electricity countrywide. There are several big projects in construction and operational phases in different parts of the country. CAE Energy in partnership with Humphries Boerdery, has developed 1.2MW biogas power project near Bela-Bela, Limpopo province, with the plant having produced 10 MWh of electricity since August 2009. Independent power producer Lesedi Biogas Project is planning to build one of the world’s largest open-air feedlot manure-to-power plants, in Heidelberg, near Johannesburg with capital cost of US$ 15 million.