The South African Wind sector is following a natural evolution, demonstrating the same trajectory and adjustments as its global market counterparts, with a shift from resource-rich areas to regions attractive for their ideal transmission connections. This is further underpinned by a downward pricing curve for the cost of energy, more powerful and bigger turbine generators and increased market competitiveness.

In South Africa, this geographic shift outside of the Cape Provinces, is driven by the regions’ constrained grid capacity, clearly demonstrated by the government’s last procurement round, REIPPPP’s Bid Window 6, which failed to secure a single Wind project.

However, areas such as the Mpumalanga Province, has available grid capacity and with more coal generation facilities reaching the end of their lifetime, resulting in decommissioning, additional grid capacity in this thermal-power region will open up.

The market intelligence clearly indicates that by 2027 new wind power generation projects will become concentrated in grid-rich areas, with KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga emerging as important wind jurisdictions, within the next five years. The South African Renewable Energy Grid Survey, released in June 2023, shows stable and constant growth in wind projects being developed in these new zones, which is vital for the industry, especially if the country is to be successful in its plan to industrialise the renewable energy sector.

“Original Equipment Manufacturers, such as ourselves, as well as investors, both local and global, prefer a consistent pipeline of projects for long term investment decision making. Whilst we are able to meet the technology needs of lower-wind resourced areas, it is challenging to operate within a market that isn’t reinforced by clear supportive policy and consistent closure of projects without delays,” – Compton Saunders, Managing Director of Nordex Energy South Africa.

In preparation to meet market needs, Nordex Energy South Africa introduced technology offering an increase in unitary power, which means improved cost of energy, as well as a reduction in land usage and visual impact.

In addition to a more powerful generating platforms, taller towers are necessary, to capture better wind conditions at higher altitudes, in areas such as Mpumalanga. To-date, most wind turbine towers in South Africa have been 80 to 120 meters tall, but as we shift into new regions, this will need to increase.

Looking at the global market, OEM’s such as Nordex are working on projects with hybrid towers of 168m hub height, with this technology available to the local South African market. There are also various tower technologies between 120m to 200m, which are available or under development.

These 168m hybrid towers that could be offered in this market, comprise of around 100m concrete sections that would be locally manufactured, and the balance of (68m) steel sections that can be manufactured locally or imported.

“Our industry is going to require large volumes of wind turbine components, in a relatively short space of time, and due to the potential overlapping construction programmes, resulting in greater logistical considerations. The majority of the components will arrive on a vessel, before being offloaded and then stored close to the port before its road transportation commences to the final installation destination. We already know that the availability of land in ports or close to ports could be a challenge and that the ability to handle large volumes through single entry and exit gates will be hindered by congestion,” said Saunders.

He continued, “Another consideration is that the longer blade lengths that we’ll need to bring into the country, require specialised trailer sets, which will need to be sourced abroad, and then require licensing locally. And, with the uncertainty and continuous delays in our country’s renewables market, the timing of investment decisions are very tricky.”

South Africa can also begin to see the pairing of wind and solar power plants, meaning that a single transmission connection point can be used to provide Eskom with increased uptake of power at a particular point.

It has been proven in global energy markets that the co-location of wind, solar PV and energy storage technologies offer more stable, predictable and dispatchable power output, and the option of shared grid connections makes sense in the efforts to optimise the current grid infrastructure.

“Hybridization of facilities brings extra value in terms of grid utilization. It is especially remarkable when the generation of both wind and solar PV technologies are complementary, and the combined curve matches the power demand. Our global counterparts have experience for us to draw-on, and we will do so in new South African regions if this bring value to our customers,” – Compton Saunders.

Case studies in the country show that the generation peak hours of wind facilities are early in the morning and late evening time, which combined with the generation curve of solar facilities, bring an overall curve matching quite well with the demand.