CEO Blog

by Johan van den Berg, CEO of SAWEA

Johan van den Berg is the CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association, the Chair of the South African Renewable Energy Council and the African Private Sector Focal Point for the Africa-EU Energy Partnership. A barrister, he has spent eighteen years in dispute resolution; environmental mediation; climate change avoidance/emissions trading and renewable energy in Southern Africa. He is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Energy.

Localisation, Jobs & Industrialisation

Expanding the SA wind industry’s horizons.

From the agreement of the Green Economy Accord in 2011, the Renewable Energy community has been partnering the South African Government in a concerted effort to ensure that the new infrastructure sectors that arise would do more than deliver green electricity – that they would also assist government to reach some pressing socio-economic objectives like increasing employment, raising skills levels and reindustrialising the country.

For the wind sector in South Africa, these are key performance indicators on a par with more conventional ones like the cost and dependability of electricity delivered and the environmental sustainability of wind farms.

As the first large wind farms near completion and the procurement process rolls past the third round, there is clear evidence of progress. Across the country a great many workers are engaged in the construction and commissioning of these wind farms. A first set of service technicians are being trained in Germany, and a course to train them locally is being accredited. Local content levels have been rising steadily, and both cement and steel towers are already being manufactured locally. There is hope that rotor blades will soon be manufactured on these shores, which would leave the industry to ponder how to assemble or even manufacture large wind turbines in country.

Scale is most often the key. With South Africa being remote from other wind markets and transport of wind turbines being costly, we are looking for the competitive edge.

It is within this context that rural electrification in Africa becomes so interesting. Approximately 690 million Africans are without electricity. There are various initiatives afoot to change this, of which the “Sustainable Energy for All/SE4all” launched by the Secretary General of the United Nations is perhaps the most high profile (http://www.sustainableenergyforall.org/). If one assumes that these efforts are bound to bear fruit in the medium term, the question arises what share of these people could be electrified with wind power alone or with wind power in combination with other technologies like solar, hydro, or even diesel. The off-grid/mini grid/hybrid systems that we are considering show considerable flexibility to local conditions and considerably broadens potential applicability. A comprehensive study on this topic has recently been completed by the Brussels-based “Alliance for Rural Electrification”.

From a South African perspective, the follow-on question becomes “to what degree is this a market where South Africa has a competitive advantage and can leverage the economies of scale to create a local industry?”

Initial indications are very promising. The geographical proximity means that suddenly it is South Africa that holds the advantage, not international manufacturers. Moreover, South Africa already makes high quality wind turbines in the small and medium size range, as evidenced by the activities of Kestrel and Adventure Power. These smaller turbines are easily transported over rough terrain and are easily erected.

There is every hope that the South African Wind Industry can use this African opportunity to build a large local industry that can export - and with these earning offset such imports as may still need to be made for the large, on-grid, commercial wind farms we are presently rolling out with such success. 

The missing link is quantifying the investment opportunity. If company boards and shareholders know that off-grid wind power in Africa is a USD xxx billion investment opportunity, we should see some very serious attention being given to being early movers.

With the purpose to bring together various role players who jointly can start to quantify the opportunity, SAWEA will at this year’s Windaba be hosting a side event that will be attended/supported by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the United Nations Development Programme, The Alliance for Rural Electrification, the World Future Foundation, the African Renewable Energy Alliance, the Global Wind Energy Council, The Industrial Development Corporation, Windlab and SAWEA itself. The event will be hosted by ENS, the pan-African law firm and now a SAWEA member. ENS will address how best to meet the legal challenges inherent in rolling out a continental initiative in rural electrification using wind power.

The event is exciting and promises much. Windaba delegates get in for free while a day fee has been determined for people wanting to only attend the side event. Seats are limited and those interested are urged to book early with the Windaba organisers.