Energy future: The Bokpoort Concentrated Solar Power Project at Groblershoop in the Northern Cape was launched in 2016. The province has attracted a raft of renewable-energy companies. Picture: SUPPLIED
Energy future: The Bokpoort Concentrated Solar Power Project at Groblershoop in the Northern Cape was launched in 2016. The province has attracted a raft of renewable-energy companies. Picture: SUPPLIED

The elimination of concentrated solar power from SA’s energy future will disadvantage the country regarding investment, industrialisation and job creation, proponents of the technology claim.

The department of energy’s draft Integrated Resource Plan, a blueprint for SA’s energy future, heavily favours renewable power and gas in line with a least-cost model. 

However, not all renewables are preferred. Cost-competitive solar PV (photovoltaic) and wind power are the main winners in the draft plan . But new power from other, more costly, green power technologies such as concentrated solar power (CSP), has been excluded.

Unlike in the IRP 2010 in which 1,050 MW of CSP was planned, the 2018 draft sees just 600MW — a large portion of which has already been built.

In the last bidding round for the government’s green power procurement programme, winning wind and solar projects had tariffs as low as  60c per kilowatt hour, while CSP’s minimum was R1.15.

But according to Sener Southern Africa, a world leader in the CSP sector and is involved in the development of three solar projects in SA, there are compelling reasons to include more CSP power in the final IRP despite its higher cost.

“The least-cost-only model seems to ignore a number of other factors previously highlighted as important by the department  [in the previous IRP],” said Sener regional   MD Siyabonga Mbanjwa. “We are not saying least-cost is not important, but we need to look at it in a balanced manner.”

A key criticism of renewables is that they fail to produce power if the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Battery storage is not yet viewed as an affordable solution. In this regard CSP has the edge because it has thermal storage and so can supply power that is reliable, as well as sustainable and carbon-free.

“That is a unique combination worth considering seriously in terms of energy policy,” Mbanjwa said.

CSP also offers “huge opportunity” to manufacture some components locally and employs substantially more people in construction than PV plants”, he said.

According to EE Publishers,  interest in CSP has increased lately with several large plants in the works worldwide. The revival, it said, is likely brought about by the realisation that “the problem of variability and intermittency of renewable energy sources can best be solved by storage, and the development of suitable bulk electricity storage is still quite far down the road”. 

steynl@businesslive.co.za