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Friday, October 5, 2012

Sasol weighs in on renewable energy capture and storage

CAVAN Hill is general manager of venture and technology management at Sasol New Energy.

SUMMIT TV: What are the global challenges, and what is the alternative energy future for South Africa? Talking about trends around renewable energy in South Africa, one of the things that comes out is in Europe they talk about sustainable energy diversifying their energy mix, whereas across the African continent we are using sustainable energy to meet a need.

CAVAN HILL: South Africa is facing electricity shortages and we can’t meet all the new generation requirements just by conventional means. Part of South Africa’s electricity plan is to incorporate a large proportion of electricity from renewable energy sources in that mix.

STV: What are we seeing from business and government in that space?

CH: There is a lot of interest in renewable sources of electricity. For example, worldwide in 2010 there was more renewable electricity generation added worldwide than there was conventional electricity generation. That’s not the case yet in South Africa but people are looking at bringing more renewable electricity generation into the mix. The government launched the renewable energy independent power producers procurement programme, looking at solar and wind energy, so there’s big opportunities here in South Africa.

STV: One of the big frustrations in trying to implement change and sustainable practices is business and government being seen just talking the talk and not necessarily doing things. Do you get the sense that is changing?

CH: There are many projects that are about to start in the renewable energy procurement programme. A lot of the delays has been because of technology changes and bringing costs down, but it’s starting to happen now in South Africa.

STV: What is Sasol doing?

CH: Sasol is focusing in a big way on solar energy. Forty years ago Sasol focused on coal — we had a lot of coal in South Africa. Now the big focus is on solar where we are blessed with a lot of sunlight. We are looking particularly at concentrated solar power. One can do it on a commercial utility scale, it’s more stable than photovoltaic generation technology and it offers opportunities for local content.

We’ve done a lot of work and we are at the final stages in a feasibility study for a large-scale facility in the Northern Cape, and we are looking at other opportunities related to this because one of the issues with renewable energy is that the sun doesn’t shine all day and all night, so one has to look at energy storage.

We are looking at energy storage and new battery technology where we’ve recently made a strategic investment in a UK start-up company called Oxis Energy that’s developing the next generation of batteries that offer the potential to store more energy at a lower cost. We are looking at opportunities in transport that can also be used for storing electricity from solar plants, so we see big opportunities in the future for renewable energy in South Africa.

STV: What are the challenges?

CH: As with any new project it’s about developing the technology and engineering to a point where decisions can be made. This is new technology for Sasol so it’s not conventional petrochemical refining. We’ve also had to look at our own internal processes, but we are busy overcoming those challenges.

STV: Are alternative energy options cheaper?

CH: The cost of alternative energy is coming down and the cost of conventional electricity is going up. One of the big advantages of renewable energy is that that feedstock cost is fixed, so there’s a much lower escalation profile in the future. We are starting to near the crossing point for renewable electricity. With plant in the right areas with the right wind and solar resources, once the costs are comparable, the crossing point will come.

1 comment:

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