solar south africa

Submitted by sproutscout on Wed, 2011-06-22 08:13

Solar South Africa - Photograph Jonathan JonesSolar South Africa - Photograph Jonathan Jones

Our recent post, Sasol on Solar, documented the serious interest that Sasol (and other such industrial heavyweights) are taking in renewable energy – particularly solar. Indeed the growing trend in consideration of alternate energy strategies for South Africa, centres around solar energy. It seems all the parties are coming to town this week to discuss everything about solar energy for the Solar South Africa Conference in Johannesburg, run by Green Power Conference. The Green Power Academy will hold workshop/trainings throughout the conference to bring certain participants up to speed on issues such as a Technology Briefing for people not technically trained in the renewable energy field.

This post details what to look out for at the conference and various issues surrounding solar technology in South Africa.

Solar Issues

In his address at the Sci-Bono Center recently, Dr Vosloo brought attention to many of the issues that remain within the industry, that ought to be addressed if solar energy is to play a major role in national energy provision. Many of these issues will be covered during the conference. The slogan, 'Growing the South African Solar Market to the First Gigawatt' ensures that the conference will look at the issue of developing a framework to foster growth in the renewable energy sector. It is clear that a strategic plan needs to be devised between all interested parties to ensure a viable plan to grow the industry. It is only if developers can understand legislation, investor psychology and international trends that they can really begin to develop the solar product.

Solar at HomeSolar at Home

The main challenge that remains with solar technology is that storage of energy from large scale production still needs to be developed. A friend of mine passionately relates her experiences of owning a solar energy geyser. In summer the family have to be careful to not burn themselves as the boiling water jet flows from the tap, and in winter they have to ration two-minute-luke-warm-midday showers to ensure supply. The inability for the system to regulate and store energy is somewhat different from the image conjured up by solar water heater developers. It is clear that these technological issues need to be resolved for solar to be a serious national electricity provision option. Solving this issue is pivotal to the growth of the industry, and central to attracting investors to the industry. The issue of storage will be covered throughout the conference, and by the post conference Utility Scale Energy Course scheduled for the 23rd of June.

In addition energy developers have to take into account what attracts financiers to the industry, and how to tailor their projects accordingly. Even with government support the industry requires significant levels of private investment to ensure growth that can create a national supply for the industry. It is critical that people understand what attracts investors, and how to lower risks and costs accordingly. This will be covered within the conference and a one-day course will be held onRenewable Energy and Finance, and avenues for investment in the industry. The South African government has made a commitment to develop a framework to allow up to 52 GW of renewable energy to be installed between now and 2030. There remain a number of stumbling blocks to development however, such as the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT) programme, and the relative cost/risk of investing in renewable energy.

The South African REFIT programme ensures stability for producers. A long term contract for production of renewable technology is taken out and only one price charged for electricity generated from a particular renewable energy source. This price then does not change as demand increase or decreases and the sector is less vulnerable to shocks. As of 2009 however, the cost of Photovoltaic solar is too high to be included in the tariff scheme. In addition issues remain about who the buyer of the electricity is (just Eskom, or other buyers as well), and how to link to the grid.

Other interesting topics to be covered include a comparison between the various technologies - the issue of solar CSP versus Photovoltaic technology, and what materials should be used to produce them. Although Photovoltaic is the most energy efficient, issues remain around cost and storage. Tradable Renewable Energy Certificates (TRECs) and issues surrounding their implementation in South Africa will be covered. The issues of solar within the realm of Carbon Finance will be covered along with how renewable projects can make use of carbon trading to finance projects. The incentives of government and international bodies play a major role in the development of solar technology within South Africa. For the energy sector to grow adequately, energy firms need to create projects that make use of these incentives. Throughout the conference and concurrent courses these incentives will be drawn out and extrapolated upon. Finally interesting technical aspects will be brought to attention, these include how to spot the best location for a successful solar PV project; what generators require from the grid and how to minimise the negative impact of variable sources of energy upon the grid to ensure dispatch stability.

This definitely seems like an interesting opportunity for anyone interested in investing or developing solar energy.

Solar TechnologySolar Technology

Solar Champions

The speaking line-up includes representatives from government, international solar technology companies, environmental and energy, local solar suppliers and various banks and finance institutions.

Some interesting speakers include: Scott Brodsky from Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP a legal firm which has extensive experience in energy litigation and environmental law. Brodsky has been involved in interesting South African cases such as legislation input to the REFIT programme and biothermal, wind and solar projects throughout Africa and the UK. He will definitely add valuable input as to current environmental legislation and the legal framework.

Irvan Damon represents the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa who strive to increase the use of renewable energy in South Africa, and to provide a platform for all those involved in renewable energy to interact. Damon, something of a green 'celebrity', is the co-creator and partner in Carbon d’Afreeque an entrepreneurship venture, which recycles and reuses advertising billboards. He has been involved in many media projects, from television programmes to columns in magazines such as Men's Health. He will be able to give much insight into the burgeoning demand for solar in the industry and green products in the media.

To share insights from the finance/investment side of the industry, Stefano D.M.Sommadossi from NextEnergy Capital will address the attendees. NextEnergy Capital raises debt and equity and provides financial and strategic advice to firms entering the renewable energy sector and has played a major role in developing the renewable energy sector in Europe. Finally, from a governmental and scientific research perspective, Dr Velaphi Msimang the General Manager of the Hydrogen and Energy subprogramme for the Department of Science and Technology will present. He has a background in chemical engineering and built his career at the CSIR. He will give valuable insight to the scientific and governmental aspects of the industry.

Co-operation and integrated approaches

We need to keep in mind, however, that no single renewable technology or approach is a panacea to the provision of electricity in South Africa. There is no single answer to the problem, and each answer carries with it its own challenges and issues that need to be worked through. As Dr Vosloo of Sasol Technology hinted at, it seems that local resources should be utilised to ensure local supply is met. It seems that the answer may lie in a fusion of multiple technologies, wind, biomass, CSP and Photovoltaic Solar each developed where they exist in relative abundance. Solar ought to be understood in this framework, within this development plan.

This conference demonstrates how, as a burgeoning market, the renewable industry necessitates collaboration and co-operation, as opposed to un-co-operative competition, a framework that neoclassical economists too often fall back onto. South Africa requires all possible stakeholders to help ‘grow’ the market for renewables, too ensure that it becomes a profitable and feasible market. In fact it seems clear that if the market for environmental products in general is to expand, it will require collaboration and co-operation from all members of society. The economics of the environmental sector (for the next decade at least) looks then to be one in which ideas are shared (not bought and sold), as there is a different underlying incentive driving many actors – that of the desire to protect the earth.

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