CEO Blog

by Brenda Martin

Brenda is an energy policy and planning practitioner. She has worked as an implementer of small-scale renewable energy projects, a researcher on issues of electricity planning (particularly as these relate to renewable energy and nuclear power) and a facilitator of transition process. She is interested in South Africa’s continued socio-political energy transition toward a larger share of renewable power supply and the realisation of opportunities for both energy security and socio-economic growth within this.

Logistical challenges facing wind power in the short and medium term in South Africa


Logistical challenges facing wind power in the short and medium term in South Africa

- By Lee Smith, SAWEA Logistics working Group

As the industry moves into an execution phase, logistics become very important.

Sizing of components

A single turbine consist of 9-10 large components:

  • 3 blades  (approx. 50m long and weighing 10 tons each)
  • 1 nacelle (the housing atop the tower which weighs approx. 50 tons excluding the drive train)
  • 1 drive train (main shaft, bearings, gearbox and generator which weigh approximately 40 tons
  • 3 – 4 tower sections (lower sections can weigh up to 70 tons, top sections can weigh up to 35 tons)
  • 1 hub which fix the blades to the drive train (weighs about 25 tons)

Transport and haulage of wind turbine components

The transport and haulage of such large components is a specialised endeavour requiring skill and planning: The components require specialised trailers. Blades are transported using telescoping multiple-axle trailers with steerable bogies, nacelles require multi-axle low profile trailers and tower sections also require telescoping trailers. These heavy and cumbersome loads can occupy a significant amount of space on the roads, potentially disrupt traffic and can have an impact on the condition of the road surface. Hence they require abnormal load permits and escorts. South Africa has a number of heavy load haulage companies and, although there is limited direct wind turbine experience, they should little problem with dealing with the practical issues. Specialised mobile cranes are also required to install wind turbines due to the large masses and heights the turbines will reach. These cranes are approximately 18m long and 3m wide with extendable supports to increase platform area. The booms are telescoping and can lift 600 – 700 tons at radius of 4 – 5m.  A handful of the these cranes exist in South Africa but the country will require a fleet to meet the demand of the project wind industry.

The suitability of routes is important. SANRAL has several upgrade and maintenance packages in progress on national and provincial roads. Developers are strongly advised to engage with route feasibility consultants during the feasibility stage of project development. Assumptions that roads can be simply upgraded  are unjustified and authorities may not allow this work outside of their planned upgrades. The N2 will form the backbone of Eastern Cape wind development and largely seems to be suitable. However, the same cannot be said about the N7 for the Western Cape which is of lower quality and is schedule for major upgrade and maintenance, especially near Clan William.

Getting through the ports

South Africa has a number of deep water ports that can be used to receive wind turbine components. The viable options for turbine component import are:

  • Cape Town
  • Coega
  • East London
  • Richards Bay
  • Saldanha

Depending on packing, a single ship can typically deliver 15 sets of blades (45 blades in total) with other components or 15 sets of towers (towers consist of 3 or 4 sections which 45 – 60 components in total). If configured to deliver complete turbines, a ship can carry about 6 sets. Port authorities have indicated that cranes at the harbours will not be able to service these ships and therefore ships should have their own on-board cranes. Port authorities require that ships be offloaded with certain time frames which is believed to be 48 hours and there is no storage space within the harbours. Therefore components need to be loaded onto trailers immediately and moved to a laydown area outside of the port prior to transport to site. Suitable areas are being investigated.

History of efforts to address the logistics challenge

This critical aspect of logistics was first picked up by The GreenCape Initiative, a sector development agency established by the Western Cape Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town in 2010. GreenCape identified the logistical issues awaiting the Western Cape and initiated a working group in mid 2011. This working group successfully informed the relevant transport authorities, port authorities, hauliers and other interested and affected parties but these discussions were prior to the announcement of Round 1 preferred bidders and therefore there was little certainty about which areas and routes were to be most affected. After the announcement of preferred bidders, the successful bidders were enticed to join the discussions but headaches of financial closure were more pressing. Additionally, GreenCape was reaching the limits of its jurisdictional mandate to look after the Western Cape’s concerns.

SAWEA enters the fray

These events led to an approach to  SAWEA as the representative industry body to take over and drive logistical planning on a national level. After the Board approved the creation of a dedicated Logistics Working Group, members were requested to nominate Working Group Members. The assembled group consists of the following people:

  • Lee Smith (3E)
  • Jasandra Nyker (Biotherm)
  • Ludwig van Aarde (Biotherm)
  • Yats Gopaul (CapeAfrica)
  • Mark Lyons (Eskom)
  • Sander van Damme (Sarens)
  • Brian Cunningham (WindProspect)

Kicking off super-planning: Confidentiality issues addressed

On the assumption that financial close for Round 1 is imminent, it seems inevitable that we are approximately 6 months away from the delivery and transportation of the first 634MW of wind turbines of the REIPPP. The logistics challenge is implied in this. Although South Africa has very capable transport, erection and craning companies, the short sight of the challenge arises from the strict non-disclosure policy hardwired into the REIPPP – planning and cooperation. As it stands there is no centrally allocated coordinator of transport and logistical plans. This is likely to lead to simultaneous arrival of ships at ports (jeopradising thje project timleines of all affected parties) and a significant amount of conflicting abnormal road traffic that could impact the daily life of the public.

Initial meetings indicated that REIPPP preferred bidders would only be willing to share logistical plans under protection of strict Non-Disclosure Agreements and with a task group of independent parties. As such Brian Cunningham (WindProspect), Lee Smith (3E) and Yats Gopaul (CapeAfrica) were authorised to collate logistical plans and circulate with the relevant authorities. Progress has been slow but is gaining momentum with 3 of 8 Round 1 projects having signed NDAs and delivered transport plans. Eskom’s participation has also been positive with SAWEA working group members attending two meetings for Sere wind farm. The working group is focussing on Round 1 but aims to develop medium (Round 2 and 3) and long (IRP) term plans to enable a sustainable logistical system for the wind industry.

The working group will assist the industry by maintaining an oversight of the logistical plans of wind farms and engage with several of role players that require consultation:

  • National Department of Transport – provide licenses for trailers and cranes prior to importation
  • Provincial departments of transport and public works – these are the custodians of road safety and issue abnormal load permits for loads that pose a danger to road users due to size and/or weight of vehicles. These departments are also responsible for maintaining certain provincial roads not owned by SANRAL
  • SANRAL – responsible for maintaining and upgrading national roads and certain major roads
  • Ports authorities – regulate harbour traffic
  • Traffic departments – escort exceptional loads and regulate/accommodate traffic flow

The working group will identify bottlenecks and conflicts in planning between projects and alert the relevant developers to these issues. Once the concerns of round 1 have been dealt with, attention will turn to the remaining REIPPP rounds and further onto the long term IRP pipeline.

In closing

The key point to be made about the logistical situation is that industry needs to work together. The reaction to the working group’s efforts have been varied, ranging from direct and positive involvement by developers to dismissive deferral to contractors. The take home message from the working group’s leanings thus far is that logistics and transport is a serious concern and should be considered in project feasibility and conception – not just within the narrow confined of the specific project but also taking account of the logistics plans of other market participants. The working group will continue to provide feedback on major developments.


SAWEA members can follow developments online through the Logistics Working Group Facebook page.


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