Green light for SA's wind farm
Shaun Benton6 November 2006
The City of Cape Town has signed a 20-year agreement to buy "clean" electricity from Darling Wind Farm, paving the way for an innovative partnership between local and foreign investors, the government and the community of Darling to get South Africa's first commercial wind farm venture up and running.
Despite such obstacles as SA's cheap electricity environment, and the enormous capital costs of setting up a wind farm, the country's R70-million pilot commercial wind energy project will start operating in Darling, a small town north-west of Cape Town, in 2007.
Using four giant wind turbines to generate an estimated 13.2 gigawatt-hours per year of "clean" electricity, Darling Wind Farm will feed this into the national power grid. It will then be "wheeled" through the grid and on to suppliers who have chosen to pay a 25c per kilowatt-hour surcharge for a "green" power supply.
The City of Cape Town agreed in August to be the first such buyer/supplier. With growing concern over the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, city officials expect to sell the electricity on to an initially small but willing market.
'Green cred' for customers
The first customers are expected to be businesses, who will pay the surcharge for a certain amount of "green" electricity while paying the standard rate - around 40c a kilowatt-hour - for the balance of their supply.
These companies will then be able to showcase their "green credentials" when they market their products in South Africa and, especially, abroad, where consumers are increasingly eager to mitigate the effects of global warming by helping to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
The project is the result of a partnership between the national government, the Danish government, the Central Energy Fund and the Darling Independent Power Producing Company.
Hermann Oelsner, chief executive of Darling Wind Power and vice-president of the World Wind Energy Association, signed the 20-year power purchase agreement with Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille and city manager Achmat Ebrahim in August.
Speaking after the signing, Oelsner said the agreement was the culmination of a 10-year process to establish wind energy as a sustainable source of electricity in South Africa.
Its signing, he said, would facilitate "a unique and innovative partnership between local and foreign private investors, the national government, municipal government and the community of Darling, which will be an equity shareholder in the project."
Darling Wind Power will now be able to secure the necessary investment to finance the purchase of the initial four wind turbines - 17-storey-high towers with massive blades powering 42-ton engine rooms at the top of the towers.
Oelsner said another six wind turbines would be added later, followed by another 10 in the longer term - noting that global demand for the turbines was so high that additional turbines would only be available by 2008 at the earliest.
The City of Cape Town aims to source about 10% of its energy from renewable sources - which could include solar and other forms of energy - by 2020. The national government has set a target of an additional 10 000 gigawatt-hours a year in renewable energy for the national power grid by 2013.
Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin has also said that the government's aim is for independent power producers to contribute around 30% of South Africa's total electricity supply.
Eskom's demonstration wind farm
The country's - and sub-Saharan Africa's - first large wind turbine facility was state power company Eskom's facility at Klipheuwel just north of Cape Town. The pilot phase of Eskom's Klipheuwel research and demonstration project started in August 2002 and ran through to the end of 2005.
Eskom has reportedly been less than enthusiastic about the prospects for wind power generation in South Africa. Reporting on the Klipheuwel project, Eskom described the country's wind resource as "moderate when compared to northern European conditions".
According to Eskom, South African conditions would enable wind farms to operate at a maximum capacity of about 15% to 25%, compared to about 30% in northern Europe.
Oelsner has disputed this, saying the Darling wind farm has a maximum capacity factor of 34%.
And while some might criticise the project for relying on a form of government subsidy, Oelsner argues that the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries are heavily subsidised worldwide.
SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews