Last week was the completion of a 12 week long project which I, and the Project Moya team, undertook with Modelling and Digital Sciences (MDS) at the Council for Scientific Industry Research (CSIR). MDS, along with Meraka at the CSIR, hosted around 50 students during the school holidays (July, December and Jan) to apply data science skills to solve real world problems (the DSIDE progromme). The diversity of problems was incredible, from natural language processing to modelling electricity theft to cyber security and furthermore, the diversity of students, from engineering to data science to statistics to mathematics and we even had a journalist and fine art student.
Project Moya took me on a whirlwind of a ride through the South African wind energy landscape and I would like to share with you some of the interesting things I have found out since, thanks to CSIR MDS, the CSIR Energy Centre and WindAC Conference.
In the inset of this post and below, I have included an infographic, and I want to talk more about what’s happening here.
Figure 1 shows the power density in South Africa at 80m above sea level. This is well within the typical range of large scale wind turbines. The darker areas highlight those which are expected to produce the greatest amount of power. As you may have known, the highest power densities are found in both the Western and Eastern Cape. This corresponds nicely to where most of our wind farms are currently built (see Figure 2). Each of the labels show the renewable energy technologies and you can see clustering of wind (blue labels) in both of these provinces. The numbers on the labels represent the REIPPP bid window. (The REIPPP is a formal framework to assist in the procurement of wind technology in South Africa and has stimulated growth in the wind energy market, however, many of the wind farms in bid windows 3 and 4 are still under construction). The question here is, are the areas in South Africa which have promising quantitative wind resource and are not being fully exploited? A closer look at Figure 1 shows areas of the coast of the Northern Cape and KZN may have potential. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that there may be restrictions in such areas which make wind farm development less feasible (such as transmission to the grid and the existence of natural parks + more).
South Africa appears to be sitting on a wind mine of wind resource. Figure 4 shows the global average wind speeds again at 80m above ground and the dark red along the Southern tip of Africa highlights this (and in Somalia and Ethopia and North West Africa!). But we sit far behind Europe, China and India in installed wind capacity. Conclusion: this is not to say that we don’t have the resource, we do! But how can the market be stimulated?
With 1.5GW of installed capacity, wind energy contributes 3% to the South African grid (see Figure 5. Denmark has around 50% wind). Anyway, it’s not all doom and gloom, Figure 6 shows a plot from recent work conducted by the CSIR Energy Centre for which best and worse case future installed capacities are shown until 2050. (Plus our coal stations are estimated to be decommissioned in the next 100 years so something has got to fill that 74% contribution). Essentially, we are transitioning towards renewable energy, and we have the added benefit of jumping on decreasing prices of technology. Before we get ahead of ourselves we also have to consider other challenges. Will renewable energy consistently provide South Africa with the power needed to operate it’s mines? How will we address loss of jobs due to the decommissioning of coal mines?
Those aren’t my questions to answer, but I do know that SARETEC offer courses to train specialists in wind energy technologies.
On the flip side, we can also start to consider HOW AFRICA can use this wind resource to provide better ACCESS to electricity? Is it possible to bring the power to the people and begin creating small scale wind farms for small communities. How will that affect the economy of power?
Okay, I think I have left enough unanswered questions. To conclude, I had such a great time learning about wind energy. It is totally different to my usual work which is more abstract and theoretical and relating to humans, whilst wind energy deals with large, practical infrastructural questions.
On last comment, I have a task ahead of me to build a small scale wind turbine prototype (pictured above and designed and patented by my grandfather). Luckily, since this project, I have more knowledge under my belt, but I still don’t know so much, especially about things related to material design. If this sounds like something you would be interested in then drop me a line.
Oh oh also, we exhibited our contribution to the Project Moya project at DST. Thanks for funding young scientists in SA!
Thanks for checking in. Check out the resources:
Find our more about the DSIDE projects: http://dsideweb.github.io/projects/
WindAC is a wind energy conference hosted in Cape Town with the aim of realising African wind energy investment. It focuses on the academic research in this field and runs alongside the Windaba. It’s an excellent conference and super informative: http://windac-africa.com/
The data used to create the power density plots was from the CSIR Energy Centre. It consists of wind profile data over the entire country at 5 x 5km spatial resolution and 15 minute temporal evolution for the period 2009 to 2013. Get in touch if you have more questions. Also, I made the graphic using Inkscape, I was recently introduced to this software and it is really flexible – highly recommend.
The renewable wind energies depicted in Figure 2 are from the energy blog: http://www.energy.org.za/map-south-african-generation-projects