Most renewable energy sources are subject to seasonal fluctuations, and some require long distribution networks. ABB CEO Carlos Pone commented to queries from SHEQafrica.com that hydro power required crossborder arrangements and long networks, while small high wind areas in the Western Cape and Eastern cape were subject to seasonal fluctuations.
Solar energy conversion capital costs remain high and a solar ‘hot spot’ at Upington is far from major power consumption areas.
Earth thermal energy access in Africa is restricted to parts of the Great Rift Valley, and conversion of earth heat into energy required high tech mining and conversion processes, as well as capital intensive technology development.
Nuclear energy is on the agenda of most African countries, since uranium is already mined and exported, but nuclear fuel required intensive enrichment and containment processes, as well as very high tech, and very expensive and long term, conversion plants, involving elaborate occupational health, safety and environmental management engineering and systems.
Energy tech skills low
Electricity utilities and infrastructure suppliers around the world suffer from a shortage of engineers, engineering skills, and low job experience levels, Pone said. ABB is training some technical people, and training some client staff at its School of Maintenance.
ABB has an agreement with seven FET colleges to train technical recruits in two year programmes. Education and training remains primarily a state function, Pone said.
Low availability of technical skills worldwide, also argue against the pace of cechnology change from established coal fired technology, to high tech renewable fuel processing and conversion.
Modular solar plants
Chinese solar energy giant Trina heads several renewable energy experts at African Utility Week in March 2011. Trina is well established in Europe and North America. Jerome Mazet, a Trina Solar senior manager in Asia-Pacific region, said they will enter African energy and applications markets.
“We leverage professional and technological experience gained in mature solar markets of Europe and North America to help younger markets grow quickly and stably. We offer high quality products at affordable cost, and will help solar photovoltaic (PV) applications expand where solar was previously considered technologically or economically unfeasible.”
Finance remains the main challenge to implementing solar and other renewable energy projects in African markets, said Mazet. Residential and small scale commercial rooftop solar heaters and backup electrical power is affordable with some capital outlay, but large scale rooftop or ground mounted solar projects require large up front investment, that African financiers may not be willing to support.
Trina calls on international development banks and lenders such as the World Bank and Global Environmental Fund to finance initial solar energy projects. Some South African BEE investors are already involved in the expansion plans of Chinese solar technology suppliers.
African Utility Week
Africa Utility Week director Claire Volkwyn said the South African government’s commitment to developing renewable energy was reiterated by President Jacob Zuma during the 2011 State of the Nation address. Government would start procuring power from renewable power producers.
African Utility Week brings together power industry professionals and regulators from across the world, African Energy ministers or their representatives from countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda and DRC, as well as Gridwise Alliance.
Renewable energy conference sessions would include presentations and discussion panels on:
• Africa’s first solar park
• case study on the 100mW Hopefield wind farm in South Africa
• African wind energy potential
• South Africa’s updated White Paper on renewable energy
• Industrial experiences with Renewable feed-in tariffs (Refit) in a Kenyan case study
• Energy efficiency in municipalities.
Site visits during the conference include a CPV solar demonstration plant at Aquila Safari Lodge in Touws River in the Western Cape, and Klipheuwel Wind Energy Facility.
• March 15 -17 African Utility Week, Cape Town ICC, www.african-utility-week.com