As renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) begin expanding their footprint into areas that do offer grid availability – rather than in those parts of the country where it is becoming increasingly scarce – the province of Mpumalanga is near the top of the list. Deploying renewable power here facilitates faster power distribution and it is becoming a priority area for green investment, contributing to increasing the country’s clean energy portfolio.
Having entered the local renewable energy market in 2017, ENERTRAG South Africa recognised Mpumalanga’s development potential. The company invested in the research it needed and began actively assessing the wind resource potential, installing meteorological measurement masts at various locations to assess wind data across the province. Once it was convinced of the business case, environmental and other permits to develop renewable energy projects were sought. This foresight is now starting to pay off, as the country’s energy transition accelerates to try and bridge the gap between existing generation capacity and growing demand – and in line with the country’s move towards cleaner energy sources.
“Foreseeing then that an energy transition must and would happen, we began conducting research soon after setting up offices in South Africa five years ago. Project development is a long-term game and for the company to be in the vanguard in Mpumalanga, historically home to the country’s thermal energy generation, we needed to research the region’s potential for renewable energy,” says Mercia Grimbeek, Head of Project Development for ENERTRAG South Africa.
Grimbeek highlights that conversations need to continue with the system operator to agree on timelines for unlocking the grid where it is currently constrained, and to find ways to work alongside the operator to expedite grid expansion.
The large number of energy intensive users in and around the eMalahleni area makes it an ideal location to promote private off-taker agreements for the purchase of energy from IPPs. Furthermore, an increase in private agreements will relieve some of the pressure on the national utility to generate power. This is especially beneficial when the renewable energy sources are close to the grid where it can accept more power generation and allow wheeling – as is the case in Mpumalanga.
One drawback for wind energy development is that the eMalahleni Renewable Energy Development Zones (REDZ), which potentially have a key role to play in the just energy transition, are restricted to expediting the development of solar projects only.
“Although the REDZ at least support solar energy development, the co-development of wind and solar is always the preferred option. It would be ideal if the environmental ministry would consider the expansion of the REDZ in the province to allow for the development of wind projects to be expedited similarly,” Grimbeek says.
She notes that the province is not known for high levels of wind, partly because resource measurement has historically focused on coastal areas. Although wind power resources in Mpumalanga may not be as good as in coastal areas, indications are that it is sufficient to support a business case for wind energy generation. Energy deployment is needed in areas of high energy use, as in Mpumalanga, and better still if that energy is derived from renewable sources.
Grimbeek adds that the region presents a number of opportunities as a component manufacturing hub which would further support the renewable energy industry’s positive impact on job creation. An increase in local production has the potential to be paired with an increase in the deployment of renewable energy facilities. The development of wind and solar facilities also supports an increase in construction activity, the production of various electrical components, such as transformers, and an increase in logistics activities.
Grimbeek, who also chairs the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), is well known in the industry not only as a project developer, but as a champion of transformation and for speaking out on the importance of a just energy transition. She sees engagement with all stakeholders as essential to realise this critical element of the country’s shift away from traditional methods of energy production.
“Engagement with all stakeholders is key to ensuring a just energy transition. All parties, including civil society, the business community, labour, and government must be actively engaged and informed at all times,” Grimbeek says.
ENERTRAG South Africa is a subsidiary of ENERTRAG SE, the Germany-based renewable energy company which is involved in the development of wind energy, solar PV, green hydrogen and other technologies.
For more information visit: www.enertrag.co.za/