Cape Town has signed a 20-year contract to buy electricity from the country’s first ever commercial wind farm. The city hopes to decrease its reliance on coal-fired power and combat global warming at the same time.
Four wind turbines are being installed near Cape Town
The wind farm is under construction on South Africa’s Western Cape in the small town of Darling, about 70km north of Cape Town. The Darling Wind Farm is expected to provide electricity in 2007.
The initial project is small scale and consists of only four turbines. They’ll generate an estimated 13.3 gigawatt-hours per year.
An artist's impression of the Darling Wind Farm
According to Herman Oelsner, the CEO of Darling Wind Power, the pilot project might be small, but it’s a significant move. "South Africa is in the Stone Age worldwide in regard to wind energy," he said.
"We have nothing commercially on the ground and with this first step, it’s so important that we get these four turbines down," Oeslner said. He added that if the project runs as planned, 10-20 turbines could then be installed on the site.
Coal will run out
South Africa’s coal reserves are running low, and for Oelsner, wind power is a logical step.
"We won’t have any coal, so what are we going to do then? We have to use renewable energy and wind comes on a platter," Oelsner said.
The government will use the seven million euro wind project to study the technical, commercial and environmental viability of producing electricity from wind energy. The scheme is a partnership between the South African and Danish governments, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Central Energy Fund and the Darling Independent Power Producing Company.
Council pushing for renewable energy
Cape Town City Council hopes to get 10 percent of its energy from sustainable sources by 2020. Brian Jones, a project engineer with the city’s electricity services said Cape Town wanted to "set an example."
Cape Town's energy needs are growing by seven percent annually
"Global warming is really affecting our climate and the city of Cape Town and the southern part of Africa particularly are going to be affected by global warming in the future, more than the global average."
Jones said that with so much wind available in the Western Cape, wind energy was probably the most pragmatic way of sourcing renewable energy at the moment.
Wind always blows
The Western Cape is said to be perfect for wind energy because not only do the prevailing winds come from two directions, they also tend to blow during peak electricity consumption periods.
The wind in Cape Town isn't just useful for paragliding
According to Consultant Dirk Ganz, wind represents some 85 percent of South Africa’s renewable energy potential. He believes by developing this resource, the country "would go a long way in actually solving its energy problems and in meeting the requirements of things like the Kyoto Protocol."
"We have identified 25 sites in this country where we could actually look at the wind regimes in those areas," Ganz said, but added that extensive wind measurements and mapping still needed to be undertaken in these areas.
National government cautious
Wind is just one of the options the national government is investigating. It’s also looking at the possibility of linking solar thermal power and wave energy to the national grid.
Andre Otto, Director of Renewable Energy in the Department of Minerals and Energy, said South Africa wanted an energy mix rather than being "dependent on one energy source."
"So that’s why we’re saying yes we have nuclear, we have fossil, we have renewable energy," he said. He added that it was necessary to be realistic about the practicalities of renewable energy in South Africa.
South Africa is exploring different kinds of renewable energy
"It’s at the beginning stages. With renewable energy, the macro-economic impact studies we’ve done indicate that 40-48 percent of current electricity consumption can come from renewable energy. But that’s technical potential, we still have to make it practical," Otto stressed.
South Africa hopes to produce 10,000 gigawatt hours of green energy annually by 2013. That’s about enough electricity to run a small city.
In the meantime, the power purchase agreement with the Darling Wind Farm has given the residents of Cape Town the opportunity to make a small, but positive contribution towards reducing global warming.