Africa can capitalise on biomass as renewable energy source

Eskom is being forced to implement rolling black outs amid an electricity crisis. (Shutterstock)
Eskom is being forced to implement rolling black outs amid an electricity crisis. (Shutterstock)

Progress has been made in Africa's development in biomass and the continent has the potential to capitalise on this renewable energy source, according to Lee Dawes, GE Steam Power Sub-Saharan Africa CEO.
There are currently industrial scale biomass and waste-to-energy plants being explored in Angola, Tanzania, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

Dawes said at the Africa Energy Indaba in Cape Town that, while biomass and waste to energy are considered in the latest South African Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), there has been no clear determination on how it will be implemented. A consideration to reduce carbon emission could be a coal to biomass conversion, according to Dawes.

He also argues that, while biomass is considered a renewable energy source, its sustainability will depend on continuous growth and the cultivation of the biomass sources to ensure a carbon neutral state. Where the biomass is a secondary revenue stream, it often contributes to the commercial viability of such projects.

"With all these developments in energy, it remains imperative to note that, despite the energy source employed, maintaining a sustainable balance between developmental as well as environmental national needs while managing current challenges to ensure energy security, economic stability and jobs, remains high on government’s agenda," says Dawes.

"Policy makers will have to devise and implement strategies to ensure a successful transition, taking into consideration the various implications of such a shift, such as the inter-dependencies of fuel sources along with impact of renewable penetration on the grid."

In his view, in countries like South Africa where coal provides self-sufficient and affordable means of energy security, it is essential that the plants provide high levels of efficiency and rely on leading air quality control technologies. Therefore, access to finance, upgrade, maintain and in some cases extend the life of existing assets in a sustainable manner is essential.

He further points out that it is critical to also note that responsible investment in energy does not only concern infrastructure and technology, it similarly concerns people and policy choices.

In partnership with Eskom, GE has invested considerably in skills training having trained a significant number of skilled and unskilled youths, comprising artisans, welders, engineers, fitters and boilermakers. In addition, GE supports local businesses through a preferential procurement process.


Barry Bredenkamp, general manager for energy efficiency at The South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi), is of the opinion that mini and micro grids will be the way to go in future.

"We can't continue building mega power stations in Mpumalanga and expect people in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape to use this power. So, the decentralisation of power is definitely something that will have to feature high on the agenda going forward," according to Bredenkamp.

"Periods of three to five years for continued load shedding have been bandied about and we're not entirely sure how long it will continue, but we do believe that mini-grids will provide one of the solutions, not the only solution. In this way you will not be dependent on a national system that will affect you, you will be dependent on your own localised system that you have more control of."
He adds that that the only real barrier to the uptake of mini grids in South Africa is the issue of regulation.

"Most of these mini-grids are not catered for in the current regulations and one would have to look at a new regulatory regime to make provision to make for something like this, which is a growing trend world-wide," he explains.

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