Why Are Wind Farm Developers Loving Africa?

Wind energy farm in South Africa (Photo: res-sa.com)

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This may well become the year of the wind farm in Africa.

A flurry of signed deals and ground breaking for new wind farm projects has taken place during the last few months, including several finished projects that have just gone online.

And there is no sign of the pace slowing.

“I think the pace of development will only increase from here on out,” Steve Sawyer, Global Wind Energy Council’s Secretary General told AFKInsider.

“The Wind power capacity in sub-Saharan Africa increases by around 12 gigawatts by 2040,” according to the “New Policies Scenario” of the October International Energy Agency’s Africa Energy Outlook Report.

A Feb. 10 report from the Global Wind Energy Council notes the global wind industry added a record-breaking 51,477 megawatts of installed capacity in 2014, a 44 percent increase from the previous year. The statistics are “a solid sign of the recovery of the industry after a rough patch in the past few years,” according to the report.

A separate Feb. 5 report from the World Wind Energy Association concurs.

In a written statement, Stefan Gsänger, WWEA Secretary General noted that wind power investment is “still speeding up at an enormous pace,” and the “new markets in Latin America as well as in Africa are reflecting the importance which wind power is now playing in the electricity supply, as a cheap and reliable power source.”

There are eight African countries that have the greatest wind energy potential among the world’s developing nations.

In sub-Saharan Africa, high quality wind resources are confined to a few areas, mainly the Horn of Africa, eastern Kenya, parts of West and Central Africa bordering on the Sahara and parts of Southern Africa, according to the Africa Energy Outlook report.

Somalia has the highest onshore potential of any country, followed by Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, Egypt, Madagascar and Kenya.”

That report notes that sub-Saharan Africa’s wind potential could “produce several times the current level of total African electricity consumption.”

Briefly surveying the current individual projects gives a good indication who the major players are and how they’re being funded.

Kenya

With less than 25 percent of the population having access to power, Kenya’s government wants to expand its power generation capacity from about 1,700 megawatts now to another 5,000 megawatts by 2017 and it’s hoping to do that partly by adding a lot of wind.

Until recently, Kenya had one wind farm: the 5 megawatt Ngong Hills Wind Farm west of Nairobi and owned by state utility Kengen.

In November, the Spanish companies Iberdrola and Gamesa wrapped up construction of the 13.6 megawatt Ngong 2 Wind Farm. The new facility features 16 Gamesa turbines and was financed by the Spanish Enterprise Internationalization Fund.

Now, after repeated delays due to financing after the World Bank pulled out of a partial risk guarantee plan in October 2012, London-based Aldwych International has begun construction at the The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project on 40,000 acres of the southeastern shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

The $765 million, 310-megawatt project uses 365 wind turbines from Denmark-based Vestas. Once the wind farm goes online in early 2017, it will be the largest wind power project in Africa and generate about 15 percent of Kenya’s power – equivalent to approximately 330,000 households.

With the Kenyan government, African Development Bank and Standard Chartered Bank guaranteeing funding to the project, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) approved $250 million in June to support the project.

Ketraco, the Kenyan national grid company, is constructing a 280-mile transmission line connecting the project to the outskirts of Nairobi. The African Development Bank signed a contract on Dec. 8 to give Ketraco a partial risk guarantee worth $24.5 million to complete it.

In October, the World Bank, through its International Finance Corporation, took a $20 million equity stake in the 100-megawatt Kipeto Wind Farm project in Southern Kenya, 40 miles south-west of Nairobi.

The $316 million project got a further boost on Dec. 11 when the Overseas Private Investment Corporation approved $233 million in support. The wind turbines will be supplied by General Electric and the 18-month construction is expected to begin early this year.

GE is also involved in the 61-megawatt Kinangop Wind Farm, which will be built by Spain’s Iberdrola Engineering, with General Electric providing the wind turbines. According to GE, the wind farm will generate enough renewable electricity to power 150,000 homes when completed in mid-2015.

South Africa

With five wind farms already in full operation and several large-scale wind farms currently under construction, wind energy is already boosting economic development in South Africa.

According to the “New Policies Scenario” of the Africa Energy Outlook report, “South Africa is most active in developing wind capacity, with average annual capacity additions of 0.3 gigawatts, to reach 2 gigawatts in 2020 and nearly 7 gigawatts in 2040 (more than half of the sub-Saharan total).”

Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power announced Feb. 12 it had reached financial close on three wind farms in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province totaling 360 megawatts. Construction is slated to begin this month on the 140- megawatt Khobab Wind Farm and 140-megawatt Loeriesfontein 2 Wind Farm in the Namakwa municipality, and the 80-megawatt Noupoort Wind Farm in Umsobomvu.

On Jan. 29, InnoWind Pty Ltd, a local subsidiary of the French firm EDF Energies Nouvelles, commissioned the 20 Vestas wind turbines at the 60-megawatt Grassridge wind farm in the Eastern Cape Province. The Grassridge wind farm is the first of three projects awarded to EDF Energies Nouvelles by the South African government.

In Western Cape Province, 180 miles north of Cape Town, the 100-megawatt Sere Wind Farm is expected to be in full commercial operation by the end of March and will produce enough power to supply about 124,000 homes.

Interestingly, this is the first commercial wind energy project financed by the World Bank Group under Eskom Renewables Support Project, which is also financed with loans from the Climate Investment Fund, the African Development Bank and the Agence Française de Dévelopement.

Meanwhile, Spain’s GRI Renewable Industries began operation of its new wind turbine tower manufacturing plant in Cape Town in October.

Sudan

In Sudan, 44 percent of the country’s electricity is generated from fossil fuel and uneven rainfall makes the two-thirds of the electricity generated from hydro-power unreliable, resulting in habitual power outages. But Sudan does have abundant wind energy resources.

For that reason, Sudan’s government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) signed an agreement in December for funding a wind energy project starting this year. The government invested $213 million in the five-year project, and the UNDP will add an additional $4 million.

‘Studies on wind resources in Sudan have demonstrated that wind power represents not only a relatively low-cost and reliable form of renewable energy; but one that also contributes immensely to local employment, industrial development and export benefits,’ the UNDP stated in a Dec. 4 press release.

A 5-megawatt wind plant will be established in the Dongola area of the Northern State, which will morph into a 100-megawatt wind farm by the end of the project in 2019.

Ethiopia

Under the Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan, the government plans is to generate 10,000 megawatts of electric power from water, wind and geothermal sources – including 890 megawatts from wind.

Last month, a feasibility study by French power firm Vergnet Group for expanding the generating capacity of the existing 120-megawatt Ashegoda Wind Farm in Tirgay Regional State was completed. Inaugurated in 2013, the Ashegoda site is considered to be the windiest place in the country.

In October, the three 1.5 megawatt wind turbines at the Adama II Wind Farm in Adama town, 60 miles east of Addis Ababa, started generating electricity on a trial basis. When completed in April, the $345 million Adama II will have 102 wind turbines capable of generating 153 megawatts and 85 percent of the cost of the project was covered by the the Export-Import Bank of China. The adjacent 51-megawatt Adama I Wind Farm was also built by Chinese companies, CGCOC Joint Venture and Hydro China in 2012 with a $117 million loan from the Chinese Exim Bank.

Four other wind farm projects are in various stages of planning.

Ghana

On Sept. 15, Ireland’s Mainstream Renewable Power entered into an agreement with Swiss wind farm developer NEK Umwelttechnik to purchase the 225-megawatt Ayitepa Wind Farm project located on the east coast of Ghana. The $525 million project, which is expected to start generating power early in 2016, will be Ghana’s first utility-scale wind facility and will make up approximately 10 percent of the nation’s total electricity generation capacity.

Limits of Growth

While Africa is on a fast track to for tapping its wind potential, in some countries this expansion can be hindered by the lack of a developed wind power industry and technical constraints on their electrical systems to deal with the variable nature of power from renewable sources like wind.

“Wind can be cost competitive with other technologies where the resources are good, but other factors could limit its deployment,” according October’s Africa Energy Outlook report. “For instance, in East and West Africa, where the greatest potential lies, domestic markets are small and the power grids are not well developed, meaning that variable generation from wind would introduce additional challenges to an already unstable and intermittent system.”

But with improvements in the operations of power systems in Africa and the increasing size of the systems, the amount of wind power that can be added without creating formidable operational challenges will increase, notes the report.

Though South Africa now has both tower and blade manufacturing facilities, that country has its own unique factors that could slow the pace of private sector wind development.

“The biggest risk at the moment in my opinion is the delay in the process of moving forward in South Africa, and the uncertainty as to the process going forward, due to the as yet unclear reworking of the integrated resource plan from 2010,” Global Wind Energy Council’s Sawyer told AFKInsider. “The country’s power crisis plus the very low prices of the last couple of rounds for wind (and solar), cheaper than anything else by far, means that there is a clear solution at hand, but the government maintains nuclear delusions of grandeur.”

While the current wind projects are on land, the enormous, windy coastline in some regions could offer yet another opportunity: establishing offshore wind turbines.

According to the Africa Energy Outlook report, “The offshore wind energy potential is best off the coast of Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola and South Africa.”

“I see no reason to go offshore in the near or mid-term future in sub-Saharan Africa. The abundance of superb on-shore resources can be tapped to give the lowest cost clean power to the region desperately in need of it to grow its economy(s) as well as to get power to the hundreds of millions who do not have it,” Global Wind Energy Council’s Sawyer told AFKInsider. “Offshore makes sense in Northen Europe, Japan, and a case can be made in China and some parts of the US, but not in Africa, not in the next decade at least.”

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