Insights from Niveshen Govender, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association
By Koketso Mamabolo
The electricity crisis is on everyone’s mind. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do, the crisis is having a direct and indirect impact on everyone who lives in South Africa. Solving the electricity crisis is at the top of the agenda of both the private and public sectors, with various stakeholders bringing forth their solutions and contributing in whatever way they can. Here we explore the response to the challenge, with a focus on the role of renewable energy, particularly wind energy.
A MATTER OF URGENCY
In late May, it was announced that His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa had transferred some of the powers and functions found in the Electricity Regulation Act to Honourable Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, the Minister of Electricity. As Hon. Ramokgopa has made clear on a few occasions, his mandate stands only until the elections, intended to deal directly with the crisis and the office will be dissolved once the country makes it out of the crisis. Hence why the Minister has been given the powers and functions needed in the short-term.
All the powers and functions stated in Section 34(1) of the Act have been transferred to the Minister, along with a few from Section 34(2). Because Section 34(1)(e)(i) and Section 34(1)(e)(ii) ensure the participation of the private, of particular importance to the private sector energy industry will be the what the Minister does in terms of Section 34(1)(a) and Section 34(1)(b):
“The Minister may, in consultation with the Regulator – (a) determine that new generation capacity is needed to ensure the continued uninterrupted supply of electricity; (b) determine the types of energy sources from which electricity must be generated, and the percentages of electricity that must be generated from such source,” reads the Act.
With constant loadshedding due to a lack of generation capacity, it’s clear that we need new generation capacity to reach a point where we do have “the continued uninterrupted supply of electricity” the Act refers to. What’s come into sharp focus over the past few months is what we’re using to produce our energy, and what we will need to use going forward.
This is where the renewable energy sector, a space filled with innovators who are dreaming of a green future, are beginning to make their mark. They are central to us achieving the net-zero target, and the South African industry is seeing the exciting emergence of new companies who are joining those who were focused on renewable energy long before it became a regular topic of discussion in the public space. This points to the shift in thinking and the opportunities available to entrepreneurs and investors.
An example of this is the wind energy industry which is beginning to position itself in the energy market. “We are in an energy transition — as is the world,” says Niveshen Govender, the CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), “and as outlined by government’s energy road map, the IRP (Integrated Resource Plan), the future energy supply will be green, with renewable energy leading the transition.”
He tells Public Sector Leaders that wind energy is a key roleplayer in the transition. As part of the Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), 36 wind projects were selected and South Africa is currently sitting on 3024 MW of wind capacity. According to SAWEA, 30 GW of wind energy projects are in the works.
WIND IN FOCUS
“With market diversification in South Africa, the vision of wind powered green hydrogen, and the potential of off-shore wind being introduced, SAWEA believes that wind will continue to blow strong in South Africa,” continues Niveshen, who has over a decade of experience in the energy sector.
“It is expected that the local industry will embark on a 100GW RE [renewable energy] power supply contribution by 2050, so we are confident to forecast that our sector will continue to grow – creating opportunities to thrive.”
We asked Niveshen about how the local industry is faring, the challenges and the link between the private and public sector:
How does the wind energy industry in SA compare to the rest of the world? What can we learn from global best practice?
While there is almost 1TW of wind energy installed across the globe South Africa has achieved only 3.4GW – not even 1% of the global installed capacity. Considering that we have impressive wind resources, South Africa should be far ahead.
SAWEA feels that it is important to create an attractive environment for investment in wind power, so that our industry can achieve its potential and play a significant role in the country’s energy mix.
Building the wind sector should be intentional and supported by policy to be able to sustain and develop our local skills and workforce, as well as supply chains that are developing, in order for our country to be able to compete internationally. For this to happen, market development needs to be consistent and continuous.
What sort of engagements have you been having with government?
SAWEA engages with government at all levels to represent the interests of its members who are invested in the South African wind power value chain. We actively advocate for investment in wind power and are currently engaged with government stakeholders to address grid access, public procurement, localisation potential, skills and gender diversity, amongst other key topics.
Furthermore, it is our intention to continue to advocate for the support of a thriving wind sector to promote impact in line with our social imperatives.
What are the main challenges the industry is facing and what do you think government can do to help the industry overcome them?
Our most pressing challenge is the inability to connect wind projects to the national grid in areas with the best wind resources. To overcome this we look to government to assess various technical solutions that will assist to integrate more RE on a constrained grid – based on learnings from similar circumstances internationally. To this end, government could further expedite updating the transmission infrastructure as a matter of urgency.
What can government do to help businesses in the wind energy industry?
Greater collaboration between government and the industry could yield better results, as lessons learnt over the last decade have shown that working together could get us further.
The wind industry has the same goal of energy security as government does, as through affordable energy supply we will be able to address the country’s crippling energy shortages, and our best chance to achieve this is through renewable energy.
SAWEA began more than two decades ago, how has the industry changed since then?
Founded in 2004, SAWEA has witnessed the introduction of renewable energy in South Africa and its establishment as a mainstream energy supply technology, playing a key role in the energy mix.
Since then, our plight to advocate for RE has changed from fighting for its place to advocating the impact opportunity by integrating more much faster.
What misconceptions are there about wind energy?
Wind energy is far more affordable and reliable than what is generally perceived. The misperception that wind energy is costly, is due to the absence of cost reflective tariffs in South Africa. Hence we need to better understand the actual cost of the various generation technologies in the country and compare cost like for like.
Secondly, the level of variability should be discredited, as although wind energy is indeed intermittent in nature, this resource has an impressive generation profile especially visible during the evening peak when the energy is most required. With better system planning, the generation profile together with supplementary technological coupling, renewable energy has the ability to improve performance holistically.
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