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Siyabonga Mbanjwa, SENER Southern Africa Regional Manager

The first electric power stations were not an instant success. In fact, several failed quite dismally and the affected societies of the late 1800s quickly shifted back to older and more trusted forms of energy.

It was not until Thomas Edison pushed the standardisation of electrical components and employed droves of voltage-punting sales people, that electricity gained real traction.

Today the world again stands at the edge of a new energy age. It’s a transformation that will determine the future of a prosperous South Africa, built on industrialisation and digital services, and replete with economic opportunity.

The foundation of this new world is an energy-secure SA. The challenge is how we achieve that. Some still favour Edison’s concept of big centralised power.

Though this still has relevance in the energy landscape, holding onto it exclusively is akin to favouring kerosene lamps over light bulbs. If price was no concern, then we could simply throw money at older technologies.

But the rising costs of bulk and raw materials are rendering such projects very expensive. Add the slow turnaround -– constructing a nuclear power station can take 18 years from the first pour to grid connection -– and it is clear that the solution is a healthy mix of different energy sources.
SENER has been an active partner in developing SA’s new energy portfolio. It was part of the consortium that built the Bokpoort concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, and its technology powers the Bokpoort, Kathu and Ilanga-1 concentrated solar power CSP projects.

These are part of 29 solar thermal plants we’ve built globally, all of which made an impact quickly. Construction of the Bokpoort CSP in the Northern Cape was completed in well under three years.

SENER has been an active partner in developing SA’s new energy portfolio. It was part of the consortium that built the Bokpoort concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, and its technology powers the Bokpoort, Kathu and Ilanga-1 power CSP projects.

These are part of 29 solar thermal plants we’ve built globally, all of which made an impact quickly. Construction of the Bokpoort CSP in the Northern Cape was completed in well under three years. But solar is just a part of the equation.

With offshore gas fields and neighbours flush in the resource, SA should take advantage of Gas-to-Power generation. The introduction of gas is a natural progression for the country that will help diversify the energy mix, transform the country’s infrastructure and create jobs.

Gas is quick to deploy: a 600MW gas-fired power plant can deliver its first power in 18 months and be fully operational in under three years. Combined cycle gas power plants have an overall efficiency of more than 62%, whereas coal fired power plants have less than 50%.

Though the Medupi, Eskom’s new coal-fired power station, will offer more than six times that capacity, it has already taken longer than a decade to build. If gas power plants were built back-to-back in that period, the country would already have half that capacity in the same time and at a lower price.

Assuming plants are built concurrently, green power stations could match Medupi’s output, but at lower costs, higher efficiency and more immediate social benefits.

Gas power plants also take up considerably less terrain (as little as half that of a coal power plant), operate with considerably lower emissions, and are not nearly as demanding on water as coal or nuclear.

This is a vital factor for a water-scarce country such as SA SENER holds no doubts that gas is a key component to the energy future and we are staking our own future on that.

We are not alone: investors are ready and waiting. The market is shifting and headed towards rapid expansion, especially once policy impasses and barriers to renewable energy adoption are overcome. Energy minister David Mahlobo has also noted gas as a key part of SA’s future energy mix.

But we shouldn’t see gas as a tag-along to the larger energy strategies. The savings, ease of deployment, higher efficiency, versatility, immediate results and being a cleaner-burning fuel should line it at the frontline of SA’s energy drive.

Siyabonga Mbanjwa, SENER Southern Africa Regional Manager

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