Wind industry questions SA tariffs

2011-05-11 09:18
Cape Town - The perception that wind turbines are loud has had a negative impact on the implementation of renewable energy solutions, but the issue of tariffs remains controversial in SA, an industry insider has said.

"It's a perception that these turbines are loud. That was from 20 years ago," Windwatts Turbines managing director Sean van Horsten told News24 on the sidelines of the 3rd Wind Power Africa conference in Cape Town.

The company produces horizontal and vertical wind turbines and Van Horsten said that the turbines were efficient, particularly because they occupied a small "footprint".

"We have a horizontal and vertical axis turbine, and we find that the vertical axis turbine is more efficient, but we don't know why yet," said marketing director Corné Snyders.

Some companies were demonstrating huge wind turbines with a rotor diameter in excess of 100m. They generate up to 2.5MW per turbine, but need to be built away from residential areas.

Funding

In SA, energy problems in rural areas where people lived away from the Eskom grid could be solved by a combination of complementing technologies to generate electricity.

"We can sort out the energy crisis in the rural areas. With between 1MW to 5MW, you could power up to 5 000 homes," said Van Horsten.

He added that 14 stacks (wind turbine and solar panel) could deliver 1MW of energy, but access to funding was problematic.

"The tap-in tariffs are a façade. How can you take away a third of your profit? And now Eskom is thinking about dropping it even further," fumed Van Horsten.

He said that wind energy could be used along South Africa's coastal areas and that the turbines needed a breeze to begin generating power.

"About 68% of the time, the wind is blowing along the coast, but if you live there, it's a lot more. The turbines work with a wind of 4m/s - that's a Cape Town breeze."

Several speakers at the conference hinted that they were ready to meet the targets but waited on government's go ahead with new tariffs and legislation around renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy

"SA is about to become one of the world's most exciting renewables market, adopting renewables late but with a high growth rate," said Paul Earley-Taylor from Standard Bank.

Proven Energy's Chris Simpson warned that wind turbines were certified and users should be aware of the servicing cost for machines, particularly those sited in inhospitable locations or at sea.

Van Horsten blasted Eskom for dragging its heels on accelerating renewable energy.

"It's not in Eskom's best interest to move the industry forward, so we fly under the radar.

"We've had massive support from the Eastern Cape government. When we go into a village, we train people and they become the maintenance crew," he said.

Recently, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) called on the government to invest in renewable energy.

Entrepreneurs

"South Africa, like other developing countries, has a vital opportunity to use investment in renewable energy as an engine of economic development, livelihoods and dignity. Starting that engine demands investment as well as an enabling legislative environment," said the WWF's climate change programme manager Richard Worthington.

Large utilities have been blamed for sabotaging the alternative energy industry.

"Utilities have lost out to wind farms and they're losing business to smaller companies. So they're sabotaging renewable energy projects," said Hermann Oelsner, president of the African Wind Energy Association.

Van Horsten said that entrepreneurs need help to get the industry moving.

"All we're saying is: 'Just give us a shot.'"


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