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Friday, September 28, 2012

Solar-thermal sector’s industrialisation potential to be probed

Pancho Ndebele
Picture by: Duane Daws
Pancho Ndebele

A study aimed at assessing the potential industrial development spinoffs for South Africa of a large-scale deployment of concentrated solar power (CSP) generation technologies is in the process of being initiated.

The project, which will be funded by the German Agency for International Cooperation, or GIZ, is being supported by the Southern Africa Solar Thermal and Electricity Association (Sastela) and South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry.

Sastela executive committee member Pancho Ndebele, of Emvelo, tells Engineering News Online that international and local consultants are in the process of being selected and appointed by GIZ and that the study should begin during October.

The results, which its backers hope will influence the future allocation of CSP within South Africa’s future electricity generation mix, should be published during the first quarter of 2013 – coinciding with a review of the Integrated Resource Plan 2010 (IRP2010).

Various scenarios will be interrogated, including the IRP2010’s proposal for the development of 1 200 MW of CSP capacity by 2025, which forms part of a larger plan to add 45 637 MW of new generation capacity by 2030, including 17 800 MW of renewable-energy capacity.

However, other scenarios will also be examined, including:
Accelerating the deployment of the CSP outlined in the IRP2010 for delivery by 2020.
Increasing the CSP allocation to 5 000 MW by 2030, with the bulk of that capacity to be developed before 2025.
And a ‘green scenario’ that increases the CSP allocation to 10 000 MW and assumes that these solar facilities replace a prevailing plan to build 9 600 MW of nuclear capacity.

Solafrica director Michael Goldblatt says the aim is to offer policymakers and stakeholders insight into the potential energy and non-energy benefits that could arise from embracing CSP technologies, including issues such as localisation, job creation and pricing.

Sastela believes the relative immaturity of CSP when compared with solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind solutions offers South Africa an opportunity to become a global leader in the development and production of the systems and components used in such facilities.

Interest has already been shown from existing glass manufacturing, steel fabrication and civil engineering companies in aligning their business models to the growth and development of the sector.

But Ndebele says investments will only be made once there is greater certainty about the role of CSP in the future mix, while large-scale CSP-led industrialisation will depend primarily on whether or not the current allocation for the technology is increased.

Goldblatt acknowledges that the high cost of production from solar thermal plants is a concern to authorities. However, he says the fact that CSP plants can include storage distinguishes the technology from other renewables as its electricity can be dispatched.

On a levelised-cost basis CSP is more expensive when compared with wind and solar PV, with the initial projects emerging as preferred bidders through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP), bidding prices of between 250c/kWh and 260c/kWh.

Through the study, however, Sastela is hoping to demonstrate that the ability of CSP plants to operate as mid-merit and base-load facilities lowers total system costs when compared with other renewable technologies.

There is also potential to use the technology to lower the use of coal at conventional power stations, by building plants that produce steam using solar energy alongside existing coal-fired power stations. In addition, hybrid CSP-gas plants can be built where the gas is used to ensure that the facility operates as a base-load power plant.

Sastela CEO Jonathan de Vries believes the study will help highlight these potential advantages and benefits.

However, in the meantime he says it is also critical that the current uncertainty surrounding the role that CSP will play in future REIPPP bid windows be resolved. This is because preferred bidders have already absorbed the full 200 MW allocation released during the first two bid windows.

De Vries is, therefore, looking forward to the release of a new determination by Energy Minister Dipuo Peters, which should indicate whether there will be an additional CSP allocation in the third bid window, which will close in May 7, 2013.

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