14 July 2004
South Africa has an abundance of wind resources, and – coupled with its vast tracts of open land and infrastructure – the potential to become a “wind powerhouse”.
That’s the view of pioneers in the wind power revolution in South Africa, who say that in one province alone, wind has the potential to generate 10 times the official national wind energy estimates.
There are currently two key pilot wind power projects in South Africa: at Klipheuwel and Darling, both in the Western Cape.
The Western Cape’s winds are considered perfect for wind energy – prevailing winds are from two directions, and tend to blow during peak electricity consumption periods.
Klipheuwel, funded by electricity parastatal Eskom at a cost of R42-million, is the biggest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a three-year experimental project that, at least initially, will only deliver enough power for 2 500 households.
However, it is one of the options being considered by Eskom to provide widescale clean renewable energy in the future. “The real intention is to get as much diversification in our energy supplies as possible”, says Eskom CEO Thulani Gcabashe. “We already have nuclear and hydro-power, and [Klipheuwel] is one of the experimental projects.”
The farm consists of three huge wind turbine towers, the biggest one being 60 metres high, with a blade length of 33 metres. It delivers 1.75 megawatts of electricity.
The second wind power project is located further up the West Coast, at Darling – the country’s first commercial wind farm. Work at the project is currently on hold pending environmental impact approval.
The Darling wind farm project has secured R70-million to build four wind turbines capable of producing 13.5 gigawatt-hours a year. According to the Sunday Times, the turbines are expected to be operational by mid-2005.
One of Darling’s first “green power” clients will be the city of Cape Town. While the Western Cape consumes some 22 000 gigawatt-hours a year, half of this is consumed by the provincial capital.
Although highly favoured by green lobbyists, wind power has its particular problems to overcome. It costs three to four times as much as coal-generated power. Experts say a thousand of Klipheuwel or Darling’s turbines would have to be built to replace the output of the Western Cape’s Koeberg nuclear station
However, Hermann Oelsner, pioneering electricity producer at the Darling wind farm and chairman of the Darling Independent Power Producer company, says wind energy’s “not just a breeze”: the West Coast alone has the potential to generate 10 000 megawatts of wind power.
Eskom estimates that the practical usable wind resource on South Africa’s coasts is about 1 000 megawatts. And wind farms can be built relatively quickly – it takes only a year to build one with a capacity of 100 megawatts.
Denmark is the wind power world leader, producing 18% of its energy requirements from the wind, with the added advantage of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 7%.