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Offshore wind energy could be a reality for SA

Read time 4min 10sec

Energy experts, academics and research studies view offshore wind power as the answer to SA reducing carbon emissions.

The experts were discussing the issue during last week’s 2021 Windaba Conference hosted in Cape Town.

South Africa was one of many nations that signed an intended nationally determined contribution to commit to reducing carbon emissions, COP21.

This pledge requires the country to decrease carbon emissions by over 40% by 2025, and according to the Department of Environmental Affairs, renewable energy is the most logical and feasible means of achieving this.

“The wind market in South Africa is currently focused on onshore wind, because we have the land space available and it’s cost-competitive, which means almost all of our members are developing onshore wind,” said Mercia Grimbeek, chair of renewable energy industry body, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA).

“Although we don't think we will see the first offshore development in the country until 2030, it is certainly an area worth investigating, which is why we’ve included this in our Windaba discussion.

“Good wind sites will be taken up during the next decade as we build 14.4GW of wind power, and this is a good prompt for investigation into offshore wind to begin now. We have seen an increased focus from academia on this topic, and as an industry, we support it and look forward to the outcomes.”

Addressing delegates at the conference, Laura Peinke, senior international trade specialist – energy (South Africa), for Scottish Development International (SDI), said she sees huge potential for South Africa in this untapped energy resource.

“South Africa’s coastline needs to be recognised as a valuable energy resource, but it also needs to balance environmental and marine protection,” she said.

Laura Peinke, senior international trade specialist – energy (South Africa), for Scottish Development International.
Laura Peinke, senior international trade specialist – energy (South Africa), for Scottish Development International.

“The development of offshore wind is only viable if all parties work together, including national government, environmental bodies, industry bodies such as SAWEA and GWEC [Global Wind Energy Council], and of course, universities and research institutions, to name a few.”

Peinke explained that regulatory frameworks will need to address environmental and marine policies, and licensing requirements to ensure SA’s energy infrastructure can accommodate offshore wind, among other considerations.

SAWEA notes that looking at the global market, especially the UK and European countries, offshore wind is the preferred and often only option, due to land ownership structures and lack of viable onshore land options, among other reasons.

“I think offshore wind is definitely one of the renewable sources that South Africa could include as part of a diversified energy mix, but acknowledge that it is not a simple process, given South Africa doesn’t have an existing focus for offshore wind. I also think one must look at the reasons why offshore wind has taken off in international markets, apart from the obvious energy generation potential,” noted Peinke.

Recent research on offshore wind energy by Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University academics, Gordon Rae and Dr Gareth Erfort, is certainly very encouraging, SAWEA stated.

The research identifies six suitable regions for the development of offshore wind infrastructure, and indicated that deep water turbines could potentially satisfy the country’s annual electricity demand eight times over.

Peinke said: “I think the research by the University of Stellenbosch is incredibly valuable and is the first of its kind that demonstrates physical locations in offshore South Africa with actual power-generation potential.

“Up to now, a lot of the research has been speculative and although we recognise the potential for offshore wind in South Africa, tangible results allow developers and policy regulators to build on this as another contributing renewable energy resource for South Africa. Options for deep-water requirements are floating wind turbines, but a more comprehensive assessment on the meteorological and oceanographic (metocean) conditions comparing specific technologies will be necessary.”

Furthermore, she said there is a clear indication there is an appetite for investment in this energy market, especially from the UK and Europe.

Peinke cited offshore wind as having the potential to provide additional economies of scale for SA’s manufacturing and supply chain, as well as increased employment opportunities.

Windaba is SDI’s first renewables-focused conference on the African continent, with a large delegation, incorporating 10 Scottish companies, joining the event.

In closing, Peinke said: “SDI believes that South Africa’s renewables sector, including wind energy, holds huge growth potential for Scottish capabilities. Our part of the world is no stranger to wind energy and has well-established research and innovation, skills and training, and supply chain companies and organisations.”

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