Mass deployments of concentrated solar power would provide clean energy to the grid, support job creation and also create an avenue to export surplus electricity. Photo: Nichola Groom / Reuters
Cape Town – With more electricity disruptions expected to occur over the next few years, solar energy may be the answer.

This is according to a study aimed at identifying the key factors and forces pertinent to the development of concentrated solar power (CSP) technology by Stellenbosch University student Dr Toyosi Craig.

Craig said the time had come to look at CSP technologies to provide power when coal stations failed.

“Mass deployments of CSP will not only provide clean and supporting energy to the grid, but will boost the local manufacturing of CSP components, support job creation and also create an avenue to export excess electricity and know-how to neighbouring countries.”

Craig recently received his doctorate in industrial engineering at Stellenbosch University.

He said he used various methods and analyses to gain a better understanding of the state of CSP technology in the country.

“I used different methods to address the knowledge gap in the innovation and adoption analysis of CSP in terms of cost, progress ratio, learning effect, technical, non-technical, social, trade and economic impact,” he said.

There was a lack of information regarding the impact of CSP technology on South Africa’s trade and local manufacturing industries, as well as on local research, development and innovation communities, Craig added.

“My study is important because recent events have shown that the future of CSP in South Africa looks bleak, because the government’s recent integrated resource plan updates gave no allocation to new CSP plants beyond 2030.

"At the moment there are no plans to build new plants until 2030.

“This is worrying given that South Africa wants to generate 42% of its electricity from renewable energy technology sources by 2030.”

He said South Africa did not have many CSP plants, despite the fact that in 2010 CSP was one of the major renewable energy technologies prioritised by the government.

“Apart from Helio 100, a 100kW demonstration plant at Stellenbosch University, there are four plants (KaXu, Khi, Xina and most recently Kathu) connected to the grid in the Northern Cape, with a few others under development.”

Craig said that despite the large amount of sunlight in South Africa, electricity generated from solar energy was only a small percentage of the overall energy mix.

“Given that Eskom is under pressure to provide electricity, the Department of Energy (DoE) should let all renewable energy technologies compete fairly and justly.

"The DoE should also encourage the localisation of the CSP technology because this will boost the ability to maximise profit in the CSP innovation cycle,” Craig added.