The renewable energy landscape in South Africa is expanding

The Eastern Cape is the site of several exciting and innovative projects such as the East London plant pictured here, which is producing vanadium battery electrolyte.

Credit: Bushveld Energy

By John Young

The Humansdorp area supplies a significant portion of the dairy products that South Africa consumes. East London is known as the port that exports expensive German sedans. The mouth of the Coega River is where 60 000 tons of salt are produced every year.

In 2024 and beyond, all of these statements remain true but for each of these Eastern Cape locations there is now an additional economic bounty that is going to transform the energy landscape of the province and potentially, the country.

All of these sites are hosting exciting projects in the renewable energy field. The Eastern Cape has already established itself as the “Wind Power Province” but progress in manufacturing, green hydrogen and battery storage is opening new opportunities.

The greater Humansdorp Jeffreys Bay area hosts no fewer than 13 wind farms, so the announcement in March 2024 that Nordex Energy South Africa is to start making concrete tower sections at a manufacturing facility in Humansdorp makes economic sense.

Up to 300 jobs will be created and work at the tower factory was expected to start in Q1 2024 with the first set of turbines due to be installed in the second half of the year. Having invested in the Eastern Cape since 2013, Nordex Energy South Africa boasts a significant footprint in the province, including a warehouse in Gqeberha and 573MW of installed capacity across five wind-power plants.

Promoting renewables

Both the Coega Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which is located at the Port of Ngqura just outside the city of Gqeberha, and the East London Industrial Development Zone (ELIDZ) have dedicated zones within their precincts for renewable energy projects.

The ELIDZ has been recognised by Global Africa Eco-Parks, a United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) initiative, for its environmental stewardship. The ELIDZ is targeting investors both in renewable manufacturing as well as the production and transfer of green power.

Solar component manufacturing at the East London IDZ. Credit: ELIDZ

The Coega Development Corporation (CDC) has published a Coega SEZ Energy Strategy that seeks to develop solar parks and other forms of alternative energy generation methods. It aims to position itself as an ideal export destination for products such as green ammonia.

The Coega SEZ has been chosen by Hive Hydrogen SA as the location of a Green Hydrogen project which will be fully operational by 2026. The project will see a green ammonia plant constructed, valued at approximately $4.6-billion. The main development partners are BuiltAfrica and Hive Energy of the UK who have formed Hive Hydrogen SA, but various other partners are involved.

Local salt manufacturer Cerebos, who own the famous salt works on the Coega River, will supply desalinated water to the project. The hydrogen will be separated from the oxygen by an electrolyser, and hydrogen and nitrogen will be combined to form green ammonia which will be stored in liquid form at a tank at the Port of Ngqura, from where it can be exported around the world.

Gas company Afrox is another partner, although there is no intention currently to convert the oxygen to pharmaceutical grade product as that market is currently well served.

Batteries

Within national government’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) there is a stipulation for battery storage.

South Africa has so far issued a handful of utility-scale tenders which include battery storage. Ambri, a US company, has been contracted to supply a 300MW/1 200MWh battery system for a combined wind and solar facility in the Eastern Cape. The local company is Earth & Wire. The first batteries for this project are expected to be delivered in the first half of 2024 with the installation being completed in 2026. The energy-storage facility itself will have the potential to generate an estimated 700MW of wind and 600MW of solar power.

The first project to reach financial close under the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMI4P) was for a 540MW/1.1GWh project in the Northern Cape. Eskom has embarked on a 500MW Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) project and has begun to award tenders.

The Independent Power Producers Projects Office within the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for energy storage whereby bidders had to submit their proposals by early June 2023. This was for 513MW in the first phase, and when complemented by wind and solar projects, will provide baseload energy.

Lithium and vanadium are two preferred solutions for new-generation batteries. Australia, Chile and China are the world’s top producers of lithium, with Argentina and Brazil making up the top five. South Africa is in third place in terms of vanadium production, but China makes more than twice as much as South Africa and the second and fourth-placed Russia and Brazil combined.

Bushveld Minerals in Limpopo describes itself as being “one of only three operating primary vanadium producers” in the world. Glencore and Marula Mining are the other South African companies that mine vanadium.

But Bushveld Minerals has gone beyond mining. Its subsidiary, Bushveld Energy, is to produce vanadium battery electrolyte at its new Belco facility in East London. The aim is ultimately to produce battery systems. The plant was built with the support of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which is well placed to assist in the creation of a value chain for vanadium batteries in South Africa. If Bushveld Energy reaches its target of eight-million litres, it will be the largest plant of its kind outside of China.

Credit: Bushveld Energy