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CSIR proposes three more wind, solar power zones

Read time 3min 50sec

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has submitted a proposal to the minister of environmental affairs to declare Klerksdorp in the North-West, Beaufort West in the Western Cape and eMalahleni in Mpumalanga as viable renewable energy development zones (REDZs) for wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) energy projects.

The proposal is part of the second phase of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) aimed at identifying areas in the country that are best suited for wind and solar PV energy projects, based on a holistic assessment of technical, strategic planning, environmental and socio-economic criteria.

Last month, the government announced the adoption of the long-awaited new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019.

This came after government had, on multiple occasions, failed to approve the IRP draft, a sub-set of the integrated energy plan that aims to direct the expansion of electricity supply by 2030.

It consists of additional capacity of 1 500MW coal, 2 500MW hydro, 6 000MW photovoltaic, 14 400MW wind, 2 088MW storage and 3 000MW gas.

The identified REDZs aim to support the responsible implementation of the IRP 2019, by identifying and making proposals on renewable energy projects that could be developed in these new zones.

This comes as troubled power utility Eskom is struggling to keep the lights on, announcing possible load-shedding for this week.

The three identified zones are expected to be used for the development of wind and solar projects, developed in a manner that limits significant negative impacts on the environment, while yielding the highest possible socio-economic benefits.

Declining mining areas were deliberately identified, due to the need for rehabilitating areas with existing coal power stations, expected to result in cost savings leading to consumers paying lower prices for renewable energy, notes the CSIR.

CSIR environmental scientist Abulele Adams says one of the main aims of the phase two SEA is to identify previously mined areas close to Gauteng where the highest demand for energy is, in order to incentivise large-scale solar PV projects in this area.

“In this way, the new renewable energy projects can contribute towards the rehabilitation of previously mined areas, support job creation in the areas, especially where there may be a decline in mining, and potentially make use of existing infrastructure, such as the electricity grid and roads from previous mining activities.”

SA’s renewable energy sector previously expressed concern about government’s slow pace in implementing the IRP 2019, saying it is holding back investment vital to ensure reliability and capacity of the country’s system.

Identification of the REDZs

The first phase of wind and solar SEA was commissioned in 2013 and completed in 2015. It identified eight REDZs, located in the centre, south and west of the country. These were all gazetted for implementation by the Ministry for Environmental Affairs in February last year.

The outcomes of the study on the second phase of the SEA for wind and solar PV energy in SA were presented to stakeholders at the CSIR, in Pretoria, in September 2019.

The study was commissioned by the national Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry.

The identification of the new REDZs involved positive mapping (ie: “pull factors”), which included factors such as abundance of existing wind and solar PV energy resources, access to the power corridors, and other technical criteria required for renewable energy facilities, according to the CSIR.

This was followed by negative mapping (ie: “push factors”), which included environmental features and areas that are sensitive to the placement of large-scale wind and solar PV facilities.

Thereafter, an industry prioritisation exercise was conducted to ensure the proposed areas are aligned with areas the renewable energy sector identified as priorities for future projects.

CSIR environmental assessment practitioner Paul Lochner notes that renewable energy development can still take place outside of the REDZs. “Such applications must be considered on a project-by-project basis.

“The REDZs are also aligned with the powerline corridors that were identified in the electricity grid infrastructure SEA completed in 2016 and gazetted as powerline corridors in February 2018. In this way, the combination of the REDZs and power corridors provides strategic guidance to Eskom on where to prioritise investment in grid infrastructure.”

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