Government looks to floating solar panels to boost energy generation in South Africa

 ·12 Apr 2023

South Africa is no longer primarily focused on wind and solar as the primary drivers towards renewable energy, with increased interest in hydropower.

Last week (6 April), the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) called on Independent Power Producers (IPP) to apply for licences to use its water resources to generate hydropower to supplement the national grid.

Hydropower is a renewable energy source that harnesses the energy of falling or flowing water to generate electricity. It typically involves the use of dams or other structures to control the flow of water through turbines, which in turn drives generators to produce electricity.

Investigations into hydropower form part of the government’s overall energy action plan to remove barriers to new power generation and unlock energy from as many sources as possible.

Under the new push for renewable power, hydro technologies, including the following, are being looked into:

  • Impoundment;
  • River diversion or run-of-river;
  • Pumped storage;
  • Floating or kinetic turbines (small-scale generating capacity);
  • Floating solar panels

On Wednesday (12 April), the DWS director-general Sean Phillips, in collaboration with water use licence authorities, met with relevant stakeholders and IPPs to take them through the process of applying for authorisation to use available water and the department’s water infrastructure to generate hydropower.

Phillip said the DWS had revised its hydropower policy to enable the use of its infrastructure and water resources for renewable energy generation.

“The policy empowers DWS to remain within its mandate while supporting the much-needed investment in renewable energy generation in the country. We have a duty as the department to ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled as stipulated in the National Water Act,” said Phillips.

The DWS has developed policy principles that will apply to all institutions (Private or Public) in the interest of balancing sustainable water resource protection, water and sanitation provision and hydropower generation.

According to the policy, the DWS will support the development of hydropower as part of both social and economic development within the context of water scarcity and water infrastructure challenges without compromising sustainable protection of water resources and water and sanitation services provisions.

Phillips also emphasised the principles of the window for Water Use Licence Application for hydropower.

“We are not going to provide any financial support to the applicants during the application, construction, operations and maintenance. We are not going to be involved in any of the Eskom processes or own any electricity production.”

“The Department will solely be responsible for Water Use Licence Applications and will ensure that the application processes are competitive, fair, transparent and underpinned by the spirit of equity allocation of water resources in line with the National Water Act”, said Dr Phillips.

Speaking on the licencing process, the chief director of the DWS Water Use Licence Application (WULA), Sipho Skasana, said that:

  • The first phase of pre-applications will open on 17 April 2023 and end on 30 June 2023.
  • The second phase will be the application compilation and submission, which will end on 31 January 2024.
  • The third and final phase is application processing, decision and communication by the DWS.

According to the department, it will take a maximum period of 90 working days to process the applications.

“Once the decision has been made by DWS to grant a license for hydropower generation, the licence will last for a maximum of 40 years. The conditions of a licence specify that the construction should start within the stipulated time-frame following the issuance of a licence.”

“It should, however, be noted that all the applications should comply with the conditions of a licence to avoid the suspension and withdrawal of the licence according to Section 54 of the National Water Act,” said Skosana.

A window for interested parties to submit pre-applications for water use authorisations will open on 17 April 2023.

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