Expert panel proposes new renewable energy zones

Areas where mining activity is declining could experience a revival.
Wind and sun … Klerksdorp, eMalahleni and Beaufort West have been put forward for consideration as renewable energy development zones. Image: Shutterstock

A panel of experts under the leadership of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has submitted a proposal to the minister of environmental affairs to declare eMalahleni in Mpumalanga, Klerksdorp in North West and Beaufort West in the Western Cape as preferred locations for wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) power projects.

This could result in significant savings for developers through an expedited, simplified environmental approval process and, as a result, decrease the cost of buying renewable energy – which is ultimately paid by consumers.

This comes as government opened a dialogue with independent power producers (IPPs) about ways to reduce the cost of energy, which is a stumbling block for economic growth.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe gave the sector the assurance that renewable energy will continue to play a crucial role in the country’s future energy mix and is central in the long-awaited Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that his department is set to serve before cabinet this week.

According to Kabi Solar director Mike Levington, a member of the expert panel, the submission to the minister of environmental affairs was done at the request of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) following a two-year process.

Read: R161bn green-energy initiative takes shape

It is the second phase of a strategic environmental assessment to identify renewable energy development zones (Redzs) after eight such Redz were gazetted early in 2018.

Levington says the department received around 900 applications for approval of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in the first bid round of the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme in 2011.

This, from only one infrastructure sector, totally overwhelmed the available resources and led to a decision to identify corridors through strategic environmental assessments, where an expedited environmental approval process could work.

These areas were identified taking into consideration environmental sensitivities, the capacity of the Eskom grid to accommodate renewable projects, the preference of developers, and socio-economic needs.

Declining mining areas

Levington says that at the time the possibility of utilising declining mining areas was raised, but was not included in the criteria. In this second phase it is specifically being considered, in addition to the earlier considerations.

He says there are several advantages to using declining mining areas for renewable energy projects.

For one thing, the chances of conflict about land use are reduced.

Levington says concern is often raised that the use of large areas – for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy generation in particular – undermines agriculture and therefore food security. In declining mining areas this does not arise because that land was not used for agriculture.

In addition, the Eskom grid provides good connections to the gold mining areas on the West Rand and the coal mining regions on the Mpumalanga Highveld, which means expensive grid strengthening to accommodate renewable projects might not be needed. These areas are also close to the places in the northern part of the country where demand is high, which reduces large technical losses associated with transmitting energy over long distances.

Then there’s the fact that developing renewable energy projects in declining mining areas could further mitigate against job losses. These projects could also use the well-developed light industrial sectors that previously supplied the mining industry, says Levington.

In 2017 the department asked the expert reference group to reconvene and identify additional Redzs, with reference to a just transition from coal-based to green energy.

Eight areas were considered, as shown below.

1. eMalahleni 2. Klerksdorp 3. Kuruman 4. Welkom 5. Beaufort West 6. Vredendal 7. Prieska 8. Pofadder

In the end, Klerksdorp and eMalahleni were proposed for solar PV and Beaufort West for both solar PV and wind energy projects.

Levington says this does not mean that developers are forced to develop in these zones only. If they do, they will however enjoy considerable benefits that could assist them in submitting more competitive bids.

In the development zones there is comfort that the EIA has been done and the grid connection is in place. Outside of the zones, developers will have to do a full EIA at their own risk before submitting a bid. That could cost up to R750 000 for solar PV projects, Levington says.

Read: R500m fund set to unleash growth in photovoltaics

The developer would also have to ensure grid access, bearing in mind that Eskom charges up to R100 000 for a cost estimate.

The minister of environmental affairs will now consult other government entities and consider the expert reference group’s proposal.

Levington expects that it could be confirmed in the government gazette by June next year.


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Lol- you try and put anything on the West Rand and it will be stolen before the morning comes.


While I applaud the use of mining areas for renewables, I lament the default for wind – farms and solar arrays frequently being to carve up natural veld. Wind farms should always be located in farms due to having a minimal footprint of the turbine itself, with the main footprint being access. Something that is a non – issue on crop-land. Secondly solar has recently been shown to pair very well with certain crops. The panels reducing water loss and reducing excessive sun. The vegetation cooling the panels leading to increased efficiency. Incidentally, Vredendal happens to be an area of both endemism and turnover. Meaning the vegetation there is of high ecological value. Much of the vegetation is also highly threatened due to agriculture including grazing. This blanket green light to renewable development should only be given for agricultural land.

If would not even have to cover half the size of FA7 in that CSIR map to achieve 30GW worth of CSP.

This is finally some thinking around reduction in red tape.

Also great for waning mining areas

I completely agree on it being paired with crops. Also all the towns in the erstwhile Eskom powergen plants should put up PV on all buildings there and feedback into the grid through the fabulous transmission each of these towns have.

We should also seriously look at floating PV in every dam – especially the Vaal dam

Now will someone propose the next move – no Nersa Generation licence that takes at least 4 months for 1 – 10MW

But PJ – these “experts” never mentioned CSP. Maybe I should sik you on them to find out why?

Hello Richard,

Well its pretty obvious if you know how PV works, note how, only a single area in the Northern Cape was earmarked for only PV, and that the area in question has a much lower DNI relative to the high DNI areas available.

Want to take a guess? PV panels have lower efficiencies in high heat!
They like sunlight, but dislike heat, CSP however thrives on heat, that is why conversely I highly doubt you will find many CSP plat proposals outside of the Northern Cape, areas that would be perfect for PV, but not at all suitable for CSP.
CSP also does very poorly in low light conditions where PV will happily generate along albeit at lower capacity.

Generally not much application of original intelligent thought. One would have thought that coastal areas are very suitable for wind power, exploiting off-shore (by day) and on-shore (night) wind patterns.

Strangely enough the wind atlas shows wind nearly everywhere in the country that is suited to wind power except Gauteng – that’s generally lower

What I don’t understand is why all these experts always thinking in terms of kinetic energy. It appears that the only real scientists are with Anglo’s who are busy experimenting with producing Hydrogen by means of wind and solar energy. This makes them my number one as they think in terms of potential energy which will definitely be a winner.

End of comments.



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