With global wind power capacity predicted to nearly double by 2021, this South African wind farm shows how the transition to renewable energy can boost business and empower the local community.
Despite abundant natural resources, coal alone will not provide the energy needed to power South Africa in the long term and a looming crisis has already begun to hit. In response, a new governmental program has been introduced, harnessing the country’s ideal weather conditions while integrating socio-economic development. Kouga Wind Farm, on the Eastern Cape coastline, is considered one of the blueprints for the program.
Situated approximately 70km southwest of Port Elizabeth, the “Windy City”, the Kouga Wind Farm was one of 28 projects approved during round one of South Africa’s new Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) program. The initiative, set up to encourage private investment to develop the renewable energy sector, set a target of producing 18,800MW from renewable sources by 2030. In just four years, over 25% has already been reached.
The 32-turbine farm at Kouga, operational since March 2015, generates approximately 300 million kilowatt-hours (300GWh) of clean electrical energy per year, reducing greenhouse gases by about 270,000 tons.
“I think we’re very blessed and I believe everyone’s still generally quite positive that South Africa can deliver on its potential as one of the few countries in the world that has both incredible solar and wind resources,” says Jadon Schmidt, Project Manager for South African developers Red Cap Energy, involved in the Kouga project.
Early signs suggest that wind could provide the answer. The political and climate factors make South Africa a potentially huge market for an industry that is already enjoying substantial growth. At the end of 2016, cumulative wind energy capacity globally was 487 gigawatts (GW), a rise of 12.6% from the year before and, according to the latest annual report by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), it should grow by almost 65% to 800GW by the end of 2021.
The Kouga Wind Farm’s development lifecycle started in December 2011. German wind turbine manufacturer Nordex was chosen for engineering, procurement and construction, which began at the site in March 2013.
Meanwhile, South African company Power Construction was awarded the contract for the civil construction duties at the site.
“The compound for the management team is established at the beginning of the construction works. Excavators are then brought in to establish the road network and the bases for the turbines. For the new roads, some 100 loads of material were delivered from the nearby quarry every day. Once they were ready, work could begin on the 20m and 22m-diameter bases for each of the turbines.
“Excavations on site can be split into two portions” says site manager Stephan Nell. “One is a silty sand highly saturated material, the second, a sandstone rock formation, which takes more effort to excavate”.
The bases are constructed with two layers of concrete with 55 tons of steel bolt cages in between. They are subsequently covered by a thermal blanket, before finally, more layers of excavated material complete the base work. When the concrete has set, the masts and the rest of the components of the turbines, are assembled on site.
Work can then begin on the electrical infrastructure. Medium voltage cables are buried in trenches which then connect to a sub-station and from there, all the power is sent to the national grid.
All successful enterprises approved via REIPPP have to ensure that South African citizens and local communities in particular, benefit from the projects. A portion of the shareholding in an approved project must be held by South African citizens, while, a series of minimum thresholds and targets on job creation, local community ownership and socio-economic development have to be met.
The project managers at Kouga Wind Farm made sure to utilize as much local labour as possible and by the end of the project, many were upskilled. Wendy Parsons, CFO at Kouga Wind Farm, is proud of the success of the project so far from both business and community perspectives, which already has contributed to schools, playgrounds, sports facilities and clinics.
“The community surrounding the wind farm by about a 50-kilometer radius, owns 26% of it through a community development trust. For the next 20 years of operations, that trust is guaranteed to receive the wind farm’s profits. Those profits will be used by the trust on community development projects.”
We have a vision for the community. We hope for a lot more integration between the poorer communities and the wealthier ones. We want to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at making a success out of their lives.CFO Kouga Wind Farm
“We have a vision for the community, that we hope for a lot more integration between the poorer communities and the wealthier ones. We want to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at making a success out of their lives.”
Local schoolchildren in particular have benefited immensely. Profits from the wind farm have made it possible to supply local schools with computers, encouraging children to get excited about education through technology. “Since the implementation of the IT-program at the school, we’ve seen numbers of kids attending the school growing, and kids taking a particular interest now in getting to school, unlike before where they just came because they were told to come,” says Community Liaison Officer, Trevor Arosi.
Looking further ahead, the Kouga Wind Farm is committed to producing electricity for 20 years. All parties involved in the project are convinced it can provide part of the solution to South Africa’s energy crisis, crucially with minimal impact on the environment, says Red Cap’s Jadon Schmidt.
“I believe that the key issues are cost and a resource-driven scenario where, for example, renewable energy in South Africa uses comparatively very little water. In a water-scarce area like South Africa, it’s a critical conservation issue for us, particularly given the context of climate change where rainfall episodes are expected to be more erratic. If we can produce clean energy at the lowest cost over the long-term, that is the obvious way to go.”