Lockdown is bad news for renewable energy in South Africa

The national COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in the construction of wind farms grinding to a halt, as well as a drop in income from Eskom contracts for independent power producers (IPPs).

This is according to South Africa Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) CEO Ntombifuthi Ntuli, who said that operating restrictions should be partially lifted under COVID-19 alert level 4, which will help the sector to continue building renewable energy infrastructure.

“At the onset of the nation’s lockdown period, the operating wind IPPs received correspondence from Eskom giving notice of the intention to curtail wind power production due to reduced demand,” Ntuli said.

“This is a contractual matter between individual IPPs and Eskom which is being addressed bilaterally between Eskom and IPPs. At this point, some projects have experienced the curtailments and some have not.”

“The 12 wind farms currently under construction are not classified as essential services under level 5 lockdown conditions and therefore had to abruptly cease construction activities following the government notice issued on 25 March 2020.”

Renewable energy industry associations have collectively submitted comments on the framework for sectors which was published by the government.

Renewable industry and economy

It is not all bad news for renewable energy power producers in South Africa, however, as they may receive investment from the government’s economic stimulus package, driving the construction of more infrastructure.

“The wind industry is well prepared and ready to return to work,” Ntuli told MyBroadband.

“Considering the massive energy shortage prior to lockdown, we expect that wind energy and other renewables will be part of the government economic stimulus package since it is infrastructure investment that government does not have to put capital investment in.”

“Furthermore, because energy security will be a big part of helping the economy get back on track, we expect the IRP implementation to go ahead as planned,” Ntuli said.

The Integrated Resource Plan which determines energy capacity to be procured over the next 10 years must not be delayed, Ntuli added.

“During this period of lockdown the industry has been working to support its beneficiary communities through economic development obligations by redirecting socio-economic development funds toward COVID-19 response activities, where possible.”

“Wind farms are supporting COVID-19 relief programmes, either individually or as collaborative efforts,” Ntuli said.

Eskom renewable drive

Wind farms and other renewable energy power producers may also benefit from Eskom’s diversification of its power fleet in the future.

Speaking in an interview with Chris Yelland earlier this month, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter said Eskom should shift away from coal power to green energy in an attempt to reduce CO2 emissions.

“We are one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2, and carbon is a global issue,” De Ruyter said.

“We have old coal-fired power stations, with 8,000-10,000MW that should be retired over the next 10 years.”

“We have to migrate from a model that is dominated by Eskom, to one where we have a multiplicity of different generators, including PPPs and more IPPs,” he said.

De Ruyter said Eskom would “aggressively pursue the build of a solar and wind replacement fleet for its coal-powered stations”, although SAWEA said it was not aware of an official statement regarding this initiative.

Now read: Shocking charges of serious environmental offences by Eskom

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Lockdown is bad news for renewable energy in South Africa