From Energy Consumer to Energy Prosumer

by Conrad Roedern

In Africa the case of modern energy provision is a special one. Our currencies (and incomes) are about 10 times weaker than those of the developed world, which is mainly in control of the finite resources. But we have to pay the same price if we want to use these commodities. The majority of African countries spend most of their income earned from export on fuel imports. Many among them spend more than that, i. e. these fuel imports are partly paid from development aid monies. This often enriches small elites connected to importing and distributing fuels while leaving disastrous consequences concerning countries’ chances of real development. Renewable Energy (RE) – on the other hand – is typically harvested on home grounds and makes use of the national surface area. So it can be called an indigenous asset. Power stations built on solar and wind also have a much higher “local content” if compared with gas-, coal- or nuclear stations. That means not only the power station but also its operation yields huge benefits in terms of important factors like money outflow and job creation. One must therefore ask again if Namibia’s development based on finite fossil energy would be a sound foundation on which our long-term visions can be achieved. Our politicians talk so much about “value adding” when it comes to exporting products from Namibia and they rightly do so. But at times when we hit the three existential limits of the fossil based energy system – depletion of fuel, climate-incompatibility and rising violence for finite resource access – the added value from our own renewable energy sources is not adequately recognized.

Time and again we must look at the trade-off between national energy autonomy versus larger regional power pools, the latter being based on costly power lines or other means of transport for energy. National energy autonomy based on a renewable energy scenario will assign funds for the development of rural areas and centres immediately. A power pool will require costly infrastructure before the first hut in a rural area is electrified. Power Pools technically allow the import and export between countries. In practise they often create unhealthy dependencies. Everybody will import from the current cheapest exporter and neglect the development of own generating capacities. Namibia had to learn a lesson after the power purchase agreement with South Africa had to be renegotiated and sufficient excess energy from this country ceased to be available. A forgotten bolt in a nuclear power station near Cape Town has strong repercussions for the availability of electricity in Namibia.

Energy in the hands of many

On all levels of the electricity supply chain (NamPower, REDs, municipalities, end users) we see a growing move to generate electricity using renewable resources with PV Solar seeing currently the greatest increase. This trend will gain momentum whenever it is cheaper to produce than to buy. This “bottom-up-approach” will keep a large amount of the current money outflow for imports available inside Namibia. The argument of threatened grid stability needs to be put into perspective: as long as these distributed contributions are adding up to less than 80 % of the minimum base load, they will not pose an unmanageable task to control the current infrastructure.

imports

Imports declining: a new supply structure for Namibia (Courtesy AMUSHA Consultancy Services)

How will Namibia’s transition to 100% RE look like?

Looking at energy in general, the electricity sector would be the starting point since it could undergo the easiest conversion to 100% RE. Already now some 40% of our electricity already stem from renewable energy in the form hydro power while the rest has to be imported, resulting in a yearly outflow of more than 2 bn N$ and costly investment into the required power line system.

The following corner stones will characterise this transition:

1. Electricity as an energy source will gain importance (electric cars, information technology)
2. Re-allocation of funds form the fossil to the renewable sector
3. Reform of the centralised supply industry encouraging distributed generation
4. Introduce bio mass, e. g. harvesting of invader bush, as large scale “job creator”
5. Reforming the Namibian agricultural sector for harvesting bio mass and electricity
6. Embracing storage technologies and making provision of storage a profitable business
7. Embracing demand side management to ease balancing of supply and demand
8. The electricity market must be changed to also remunerate distributed capacity provision
9. Embracing small and large scale business creation based on RE
10. Bringing the energy (thus comfort and attractive life) to the rural people and not vice versa
11. Reforming the Namibian transport sector by utilising RE-propelled mass transport
12. Reforming the Namibian industrial sector in terms of supplying RE and RE systems

Many remote areas of Namibia are just too far from the grid for a power line connection to make sense. To make an energy service for these regions available, Namibia currently has a diversified strategy which requires further development. It ranges from an infrastructure of “Energy Shops” and Solar Home Systems to Solar Diesel mini grid installations. The wireless cellular telephone service shows the way forward: just as the modern telephone comes without wired lines this becomes true for electricity as well. Nobody would dare to ban cell phones in order to protect a telecom monopoly of land lines. If NamPower puts panels on their roofs in order to reduce their bill with the City of Windhoek basically everybody can do it. With the share of RE rising our electricity supply needs to acquire the following properties: The existing interlinked grid net work, augmented with national RE generation capacity will take up the new combined function (“smart grid”) for distribution and “harvesting” of electricity generated by renewable means, thus allowing an income for everybody including farmers and small dwellers.

rooftop-solar

The roofs are clad: NBLs 1.1 MW PV system

With installation times counted in month rather than years, several entities in Namibia are running PV solar power plants on their premises. Just recently Namibian Breweries inaugurated their own plant producing 34 % of their electricity demand with their roof-mounted 1.1 MW PV generating system while a Namibian supermarket chain equipped 13 of their markets with a total of 1.5 MW, just citing 2 prominent examples from a vast multitude of installations, including two PV plants on the head quarters of NamPower and one on the Ministry of Environment and Tourism respectively. Based on an “educated guess” by the REIAoN, the Renewable Energy Industry Association of Namibia, in Windhoek alone an estimated aggregated 6 to 7 MW of grid connected PV solar systems are in place (producing annually between 11 and 13 GWh or “Giga Watt hours”, representing about 0.35% of Namibia’s demand per year) while countrywide more than 200 of these systems are connected to the grid. By the end of 2014 Namibia will produce close to 1% of its demand from some 16 MW of installed on-grid PV-Solar generating systems.

The current transition: from energy consumers to energy “prosumers”

In a nutshell: Namibia’s electricity sector is undergoing swift changes towards de-centralised generation in the hands of many. Some of the traditional role players have at least noticed this but to date most of them failed to pro-actively address this ever-increasing trend. They react with fear and protectionism. A proactive minority – like ERONGORED and CENORED – fortunately has addressed the issue by introducing buyback tariffs to reward excess electricity from prosumers. This will become the order of the day. Nobody (except for a harsh dictatorship) can stop people to produce their own power once the means are available and economically competitive. The times of electricity just being sold by utilities, regional distributors and municipalities as plain “cash-cow” business have come to an end. In future these entities have to acquire the roll of smart grid operators, running own renewable energy plants while managing distributed short and medium-term storage capacity. These new tasks are swiftly gaining importance and on the grounds of this importance they constitute a profitable business once they are understood and the necessary institutional and legal framework is in place.

REIAoN

Why it is important to join REIAoN?

The Renewable Energy Industry Association of Namibia

The Renewable Energy Industry Association of Namibia (REIAoN) is a membership based organisation for promoting the cause of companies and individuals active in Namibia’s commercial renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE&EE) sector.
The Namibian market for renewable energy technologies (RETs) is growing fast and in some fields like PV even exponentially. While the volumes are growing the industry needs representation, structure and transparency. REIAoN does not only represent Wind Energy, Photovoltaics and Solar Water Heating; Solar Thermal Power Generation, bio fuel production and the energy-efficiency sector form part as well.

Skyrocketing energy tariffs create new opportunities and open up existing avenues for the focused penetration of the country’s energy sector using RE and EE technologies. In addition, the country’s electricity supply sector faces severe challenges, in that the country’s demand for electrical energy is outstripping the available supplies, including those that were in the past acquired from Namibia’s neighbours. (Adapted from an assessment paper by Dr. Detlof von Oertzen, VO Consulting)

Founded in May 2008 by 30 individuals, REIAoN currently has 23 paid-up members. The current board consists of Conrad Roedern (Chairman), Leonhard Eins (Secretary and Heiner Dörgeloh (Treasurer)

Typical fields of engagement are:

  • Representation of the industry
  • Promotion of renewable energy for Namibia’s development
  • Training Standards
  • Net metering Standards
  • Maintaining product quality and service standards
  • Establishing professional relationships with national and international bodies with similar objectives
  • Furnishing news and information to our members and the wider public using electronic media like email and the Internet (www.reiaon.com)

Our RE industry must realize the danger of being overrun or marginalised by foreign players if a vacuum in local capacity and performance leaves too much room for foreign intruders. Currently the association is active for its members in a number of issues like preparing the process for net metering legislation together with the Electricity Control Board (ECB) and the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) as implementing institutions. Cooperating with NamPower in their up-coming roll-out of demand-side-management (DSM) measures is another task of high opportunity. For this REIAoN requires the necessary standing and stamina.

To achieve all this, the number of members has to grow meaningful. We would like to see more members: next to the missing entrepreneurs in Solar especially those from the more exotic flocks of renewable energy like the bio mass producers.

Otherwise we might get stuck within the devil’s circle of insignificance: few members, weak representation – makes potential new members shying away from subscribing. The local industry, which – for decades – pushed the “Solar wagon” through deep sand until arriving at the current point of opportunity, would forgo its rightful participation in harvesting the fruits it tediously helped to grow.

Now how to become a member? Return the completed subscription form – available from our website or from our secretary Leonhard Eins (leonhard.eins@ase.com.na) – together with the annual membership fee (currently N$ 2000).

solar-representation

REIAoN wants to represent all interesting in the RE business

REIAoN

From Energy Hunting to Desert Business

By Conrad Roedern

10000 years ago a major revolution occurred: suddenly there was an abundance of food. Man went from hunter-gatherer to farmer. But in one area we are still hunter-gatherers: in the area of energy! We still gather wood, coal, oil gas and uranium on vast global hunting grounds. The whole world has been combed in our quest for energy. Even our feeding grounds are no longer safe! But the hunt causes problems! Huge problems! Climate change, health issues, shortages…the price is high in all respects. Fortunately the search for fossil fuels looses ground to a new revolution: the large-scale harvesting of sunshine. (adapted from Rob van Hattum’s “Here comes the Sun”)

Once this message has spread to the world’s poor and arid countries it must come to them like the prince’s wake-up kiss in the fairy tale of sleeping beauty. Sunshine is not anymore synonymous with the curse of drought but with an abundant stream of energy income.

The cost for renewable energy (RE) like Solar and wind can only go down because there are – with the exception of biomass – only costs for the harvesting technology. For common goods there is no cost for fuel and no cost for the transportation of primary energy with its costly infrastructure like tankers, pipelines and refineries. The technology cost for RE can only go down, driven by the cost-volume cycle of mass production and technical improvements. The margin for improvements is much larger for modern renewable technologies than for old conventional technologies. (Hermann Scheer) If developing countries do not listen to this message but continue to invest in large conventional generation infrastructure they will end up with stranded investments on a big scale.

Desert land on the other hand can become a source of sustainable income: Once the “fishing rod” is in place, countries can catch their own fish. Compared with rougher ways of exploitation like Uranium mining, the impact on land ecology is minimal. PV Solar does not require land area if it is part of the roof that people live or work under: energy supply at the point of use. Thus the need for transmission lines with dividing servitudes can be minimized or even avoided. The same holds true for transmission losses. RE is almost CO2 – neutral, thus avoiding the route course of climate change and land degradation.

Utility companies will have to adopt new tasks in that they are not primarily selling energy but rendering the service of keeping the grid stable; net-working in the true sense of the word. The old topdown structure from importing/generating via whole-selling to retailing is becoming a thing of the past. Once every traditional consumer becomes a potential supplier of energy the old game is changing completely and an innovative transformation of the utility business is required.

But RE is not immune against failure and “stranded investments” and one has to test decisions for environmental, social and financial soundness. This also means that we can only enjoy a change in paradigm once the foundation is laid in terms of both technical and business skills and balanced information to the wider public. Basically the public has to be empowered to help make the decision whether we live in a caring world or in a world of vested interests of a few.

Living in Namibia we become aware of many examples of profitable desert businesses: harvesting sunshine has started not only off-grid at Gobabeb, NaDEET and Tsumkwe but on the roofs of many grid-connected buildings throughout the country. Even much earlier Namibia and other African countries have seen the use of the Sun for the commercial production of “solar” sea salt by using evaporation ponds along the ocean coast line. Large wind parks exist for many years in Egypt while South Africa now tries to catch up on wind power. There are large solar parks from Upington and elsewhere in South Africa (1450 MW of PV approved in three bidding rounds!) to Kramer Junction in the California’s Mojave Desert. (354 MW of Solar thermal generation since 1985).

What was just a trickle contributor will swell to main-stream in due course. No government can hinder this tipping point termed “Energiewende”. Turning away from fossil energy means replacing monopolistic power supply with a democratic counterpart. The wisdom lies in how well we prepare ourselves!

Suggested pictures: Solar Thermal Plants in California

solar-farm

cartoon

comparison

REIAoN

Why Solar makes Namibia prospering

by Conrad Roedern

We live in times of a widening electricity supply gap in Namibia. There are two answers to this problem: the conventional i. e. centralised one and the de-centralised Solar answer.

Let me tell the story the way my friend Harald Schütt from Amusha consultancy tells it: a business man who makes a profit deposits his profit in our banking system at some 5% yearly interest in order to barely shield it against inflation. Our banking system will invest this money within the South African banking system. Traditionally NamPower would come and finance the urgently required new generation capacity through a bank loan of some 9.5 % lending interest. Unfortunately, in order to payback the bank loan, NamPower has to raise the price of electricity significantly in order to bring the new generation capacity online. The businessman has two choices: either he pays or he goes out of business. If he pays, the generation capacity will belong to NamPower and they will still charge his grandchildren after he has helped to pay off the credit.

Now the Solar alternative, which is Namibian reality since we are beyond the point of “grid-parity”: our businessman invests in his own photovoltaic generation based on a self owned feed-in system. The project is profitable and break-even will be reached within 5 to 7 years. The businessman can rest assured since his investment guarantees him for the part of his own generation component electricity free from price escalation and it enables him to contribute to the supply of others. Let us summarize the advantages from the second alternative:

  • NamPower will be alleviated in its financial plight of raising money for generation capacity.
  • Much less transmission losses because Solar can generate power where it is needed.
  • The electricity customer will be alleviated in paying escalating prices for electricity, thus making disposable income available to stimulate demand for Namibian goods and services
  • Investment money stays inside Namibia and ends up circulating in the Namibian economy
  • Namibia is adding value to its own resource: the sun.
  • Namibia will see increased jobs and increased capacity building in our renewable energy sector.
  • It is the fastest solution to generate capacity and even with the highest local content.

Too good to be true? No, all the above arguments hold water and should go into a lively debate and they should serve as information to investors when deciding on their own feed-in system. Especially in a country with a population density of less than 3 people per km2, any centralised solution tends to be less economical than a decentralized, people-owned solution.

Any limiting factors ?

The indigenous Solar industry capacity is still not fit for the task: without swift growth the current yearly installation capacity of about 5 MW(peak) will attract large players from the international scene, thus diluting the local content. But in management there is a true saying: structure follows strategy. The long lead times of all current conventional power generation projects in Namibia will boost renewable energy in acquiring its rightful place on the grounds of all accompanying benefits: local, safe, fast, clean and affordable by many! Only if and when the general conditions are set to encourage de-centralised Solar generation of electricity the huge advantage of direct and indirect job creation will unfold. But colleagues from the local industry: when next time we here the outcry for more electricity we should have jockeyed into position ready to answer back “Yes, we can!”

choices-for-the-sun

REIAoN

Can PV Solar Replace the Baines Hydro Scheme?

by Conrad Roedern

I have been revisiting the detailed article on the proposed Baines Hydro Scheme in ETANGO 4/2011.
To make it clear right from the beginning: PV and hydro power generation are both sources of renewable energy. But renewable does not necessarily mean sustainable! I try to avoid playing one against the other. Namibia has with the introduction of the 4th turbine at Ruacana and the rehabilitation of the older 3 turbines 347 MW of hydro capacity at its disposal. Hydro always comes with storage and can be regulated in output with much flexibility. But PV solar can be seen as a runner-up since price has fallen dramatically. It is worthwhile to make a comparison and rethink the solar option before starting a mega project in the remotest corner of Namibia. The following comparison is meant as food for thought.

Comparing Baines with PV-Solar:

Baines will:

  • Cost a minimum of 22bn N$
  • Will need a high-voltage power line (and roads) from the dam through rough terrain
  • Will have a water surface of 5900ha which evaporates some 590000 tonnes of water per hot day which is in the region of 20% from the low-season run-off (6.83 m3 per second)
  • Will take minimum 10 years to come online
  • Will need a lengthy power contract to be signed with Angola
  • Will need to share the power 50/50 with Angola
  • Will – for most of the year – only be a peaking station because not enough water to run the 600MW turbines 24/7 (Only 1.7 TWh energy for the year vs 5.0 TWh if water would be enough)
  • Will again not be Namibia’s own power source because of the sharing with Angola
  • Will again mean an investment that puts all eggs in one basket relying on the Kunene River

Solar will:

  • Be cost-effective: Solar Panels only cost 25% of what they were in 1995 during the Epupa Debate
  • Take up only 1050 ha land surface for the same output (1.7 TWh per year)
  • Solar generators could be sized and placed according to power requirements
  • Cost 15 bn without storage for the same output (without storage)
  • Storage for Solar falls in price with new technologies and would cost together with solar roughly the same as Baines (sodium-sulphur battery, Zebra battery etc)
  • Solar could be built where the need for power is and not in the most remote corner of the country with all the losses involved
  • Solar could start right now and would be built as appropriate instalments; no need to pre-finance everything in one go
  • Solar would really be Namibia’s own indigenous energy solution
  • Solar investments will attract all the money in the world, hydro investments for Kaoko will not.
  • Solar would mean appropriate power for the rural parts of the Kunene Region for energy and water pumping etc.
  • Solar will give the people modern energy and more time to adapt

The red square on the picture (Source: NamPower, with own additions) shows the  required harvest area if the Baines hydro yield would have to be provided by PV Solar. The biggest advantage would be that this area – more than 5 times smaller in area – could be subdivided and placed next to the existing load centers throughout Namibia. Since Namibia would share the energy yield with Angola, the area required on the Namibian side would actually only be 50% of the square size shown. I hope these thoughts will stimulate a lively debate.

baynes-dam

 

REIAoN

Guidelines for PV net metering – REIAoN proposes a regulatory framework

by Conrad Roedern

Following the booming development in many countries, grid-connected Solar PV systems owned and operated by electricity end-users are also becoming of interest in Namibia. The Renewable Energy Industry Association of Namibia – REIAoN is in favour of this development, and recognises the importance of having clear and workable procedures for the accounting of electricity produced by endusers. This paper does not deal with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) who sell electricity generated from renewable resources to a national buying entity, or possibly an electricity distribution entity. Rather, this paper focuses solely on so-called embedded Solar PV generators, i. e. small-scale generation capacity at or close to the premises of an end-user. During past workshops held by the Electricity Control Board (ECB) net metering has been identified as the preferred accounting method for embedded PV generators.

Net metering in practise
In its most elementary form, net metering means that “the electricity meter of an electricity end-user can turn both ways: increasing the metered kWh units if electricity is drawn from the grid, and decreasing the metered kWh units if electricity is fed into the grid”. Net metering is one of the ways in which end-users who produce some of their own electricity from embedded generation capacity can account for their net use of electricity from the grid.

Clients add with their generation system – in the terminology of the engineer – a “negative load” to their system in order to compensate a meaningful share of their traditional “positive loads” for which they have to buy electricity. Some of our “positive loads” have a detrimental effect on the grid since they can cause flicker and harmonics (e.g. from rectifiers, thyristor controls, appliances with high inrush currents) or phase shifts between voltage and current due to a bad power factor ( e. g. from motors and other inductive and capacitive devices) while the “negative loads” comprising of a Solar PV array and a special grid-tie inverter counters the detrimental effects of “dirty” loads to some degree.

Net metering allows the importing of electricity from the distribution network, whereby the end-user purchases energy from the grid, as well as the export of electricity to the grid, whereby the end-user feeds electricity into the grid. In this way the grid acts as a battery.

Payment for net metering services is simple: The end-user still pays for a monthly basic connection fee, as well as (in some cases) a circuit breaker fee, plus the net electricity that is drawn from the grid. Here, net electricity drawn from the grid is defined as “the difference between electricity imported minus electricity exported”. If, as may be the case occasionally, the net electricity drawn from the grid is negative, then the end-user has exported more electricity to the grid than what was imported. In such cases, the end-user would not have to pay for any electricity used in that month, and would be remunerated for the net amount of electricity fed into the grid at the end of a pre-defined accounting period. For the grid-operating utility, this implies that they receive injections of green electricity, which contribute to the ability of the grid to supply additional units of electricity to other consumers, while stabilising the grid during the day and in times of mid-day peak demand.
Past workshops held under the auspices of the Electricity Control Board (ECB) have identified net metering as the preferred method for small-scale embedded generation having a capacity of less than 500 kW.

Net metering guidelines proposed by REIAoN:

  1. An annual billing cycle is followed, whereby the accounting period of the meter balance takes place over one year.
  2. There is no cash pay-out from the grid operator if the trading balance for a period of less than the accounting period shows a net export to the grid; as per point 1 this will only take place once per year.
  3. Embedded systems larger than 500 kW will require a license by the ECB, unless excluded under the Namibian Electricity Act of 2007 and its Regulations.

Requirements for quality and safe operation:

  • Standard safety precautions (NRS97) for programming the compulsory anti-islanding device of the grid-feed inverter(s).
  • Grid-feed inverters have to set standards in terms of safety, and in terms of parameters including voltage limits, frequency limits, harmonics, power factor and time before automatically disconnecting from the grid. Certified grid-feed inverters are industry-standard since a long time.

Advantages of net metered PV systems:
Net metering is simple, using conventional electricity metering technology as used in Namibia. The end-user contributes to the grid operator’s revenue through connection and other fees, and thus continues to pay for the services provided for and through the grid. The end-user is afforded an opportunity to positively contribute to Namibia’s critical power supply situation. It creates an incentive to produce power at the point of consumption while the investment in generation capacity is on the end-user’s account and does not have to be borne by NamPower and/or the Government of Namibia. A win-win situation is created whereby the end-user and grid operator have advantages from such additional locally available embedded generation capacity. It reduces line losses, especially in the lowand medium voltage reticulation systems and reduces electricity purchases from outside Namibia, which is an especially critical aspect if regional electricity markets are constrained, as is currently the case. It affords traditionally passive consumers a chance to become productive. No special feed-in tariff is required in many cases. Especially in situations of industrial use, generation and consumption follow a similar pattern and thus cancel each other, which is particularly lucrative for the grid operator who sells additional electricity made available on the grid through embedded generation for the productive use of industrial and manufacturing clients. No separate power purchase agreement (PPA) is required, which reduces the bureaucratic burden on the grid operator and end-user operating an embedded generation plant. Clean green electricity with high environmental value is added to the system at a reasonable cost: It can swiftly increase the highly desired green electricity share in the grid towards the Kyoto target

On the technical side, the systems inject extremely clean sinusoidal power with low distortion (T.H.D.) and power factor. Roof-top systems can have considerable extra benefits like providing extra shading for a roof (reduced cooling load) or even serving as roof on a carport. The country benefits since feed-in systems are designed and manufactured locally; thus their local content is much higher than of any other generation option.

Summary
Net metering does not incentivise owners of embedded generation capacity as is for example done under specialised “feed-in laws” such as Germany’s “Renewable Energy Priority Act (EEG)”, where PV system operators are enabled to sell all their produced electricity for a cost-reflective price fixed for a 20-year period. However, net metering is a most practical and simple to implement method for allowing end-users to become active participants in Namibia’s electricity distribution sector, and in this way positively and economically contribute to the country’s electricity supply crisis. As such, net metering should be adopted as the standard for all grid-connected renewable energy providers below 500 kW capacity. It constitutes a win-win situation between the grid operator and the end-user owning and investing in embedded generation capacity, and balances their respective interests. Net metering is practised in many countries around the world, and while helping to fill the current generation gap, it also actively supports the much-needed increase of “green” electricity contributions in Namibia’s electricity mix.

REIAoN

Size matters: the PV-Solar roll-out in Namibia

by Conrad Roedern

Grid parity is currently arriving in Namibia. Re-visiting the 2009 forecast (ETANGO 2/2009, page 6) on grid parity makes quite interesting reading. Several large-scale PV solar project applications are pending with the Electricity Control Board (ECB). The authorities are currently re-thinking their strategies of how to introduce and to regulate PV into the grid. There has been a long debate and “net-metering” had been earmarked as the choice of accommodating PV into the grid. But suddenly it looks like the role model of the South African bidding process (for the cheapest kWh-unit on offer) is looked at favorably, although the public and the Namibian Solar Industry are pretty much excluded from current deliberations.

Whatever the outcome will be, the following considerations should help to guide a beneficial roll-out of grid-connected PV power plants.

1. PV – a de-centralized way of electricity generation

Almost by definition, Solar energy is available at any corner of Namibia and should therefore be harvested in a distributed way. The following advantages are obvious:

  • Generation at (or very close to) the point of consumption
  • Investment often by the electricity consumer
  • Reducing (or avoiding) line losses
  • Reducing (or avoiding) wear and tear of switch gear
  • Smaller and distributed generation capacities can normally be accommodated without reinforcing the grid
  • Only distributed systems (country-wide) avoid meaningful loss of generation capacity when large cloud covers or cloudbanks scatter over Namibia
  • Un-bundling of the monopolistic structure of electricity generation

Amongst the current ECB applications and in circulations on the Internet one finds proposals which reach from 20 MW to 1GW!

In terms of the above points, such large concentrated projects do not make much sense. A concentrated 100 MW solar station would constitute some 25% of Namibia’s current requirements but could be choked off just by one massive cloudbank sailing above it. Therefore a look at cloud coverage statistics from weather satellites for all seasons (and for the time of the day) is a prerequisite for planning larger scaled systems. The great advantages of distributed system become obvious.

clouds

2. What sizes should we think of?

In the Namibian context I suggest to look at 3 categories when it comes to size:

  • 0.5 to 1000 kW(peak) for residential and industrial systems which are owneroperated. The own roof is often the most ideal place to install.
  • 1000 to 5000 kW(peak) for system operated by rural municipalities or other regional entities
  • 5000 to 20000 kW(peak) for systems operated near or around larger towns and systems in support of large-scale mining activities

20000 kW(peak) or 20 MW(peak) should be seen as an upper power range. If more capacity is required (for example in the vicinity of Windhoek or in mining areas) one should think of several independent stations at different locations near the center of consumption. Site selection would obviously go hand in hand with the capacities of power lines and sub-stations etc.

Large scale PV power plants in Germany – too big for Namibia?

solar

In conclusion one can say: many distributed PV power plants will have a multitude of advantages above a few concentrated multi-mega-plants. It will mean bidding farewell to the traditional way of power generation. But this holds in store investment opportunities for many operators all over the country. What a bright outlook!

REIAoN

How to mobilize the Namibian Masses for Solar?

Something is happening outside Namibia which is of extreme relevance for our country! It reminds me of the 1960ies and the beginning of the liberation struggle. Starting from Ghana the African winds of change were noticed in Namibia and motivated a number of visionary people to spearhead a movement for change inside Namibia. This happened at a time when the chances for change were not looking very promising.

In terms of Renewable Energy (RE) a lot is going on in other parts of the world while Namibia is still seeking relief by approaching the old centralized methods of power provision: the Anixas oil-based generator and the plans for a coal-based base-load power station, which constitutes an investment for the next 40 years, are just examples for this.

But what happens if the price of oil doubles within the next 5 years, a scenario which is more likely to happen than not to happen? Since the prices of fossil fuels are interlinked this would stall Namibia’s development, without any “Plan B” in store from our leaders.

This is why those convinced about the urgency to change towards decentralized RE have the plight to learn from earlier examples of successful mass mobilization in order to achieve this goal. How do we make this change a national priority?

In most countries the utilities are seen as part of state power, empowering governments to supply its citizens in terms of electricity, fuel and water etc. The case of nuclear power, which can never be developed without government’s involvement in terms of financing and standing in for the risks, this is particularly true. Until Fukushima, nuclear power contributed to state power; now it became more a universal example for “states’ helplessness” and people are pressing to “proceed from nuclear non-proliferation to solar proliferation”. (Hermann Scheer)

Since fossil fuels are dwindling away while poisoning environment and our atmosphere plus the nuclear route leading us more and more into never-ending trouble and a minefield of unsolved problems (nuclear waste, unbearable risks), renewable energy is the “one-and-only” remaining route into a prosperous future.

energy-cube

This has to be understood and valued if Namibians want to reach year 2030 without being left in the dark. What can be done by all those who arrive at this conclusion to support the changes it takes?

Adopt the change for yourself, tell your neighbor and help to get the message spread across the country. Following the example of the successful liberation struggle, we have to ask ourselves about the strategy necessary. So who is to address? If we want to enter a “Solar Age” we have to educate and mobilize those who are going to live this stretch of open-ended future: the Youth of Namibia would be a foremost addressee to be introduced to renewable energy as our national resource with the higher societal and economic value. Renewable Energy allows much more local job involvement compared with “bought-in” fossil energy.

In order to reach the youth we have to reach the parents, who are being actively involved in our democracy. While reaching this part of the society, we are also reaching indirectly the commercial and the political sectors. Convinced citizens will buy solar technologies and they will support those politicians who opt for renewable energy as the only viable route for Namibia. The orientation should look nationally and internationally for support: yes, like during the liberation struggle we will require international support if we feel that the proceeds inside the country are too sluggish. The media again have to be involved the same way “the nambian” newspaper had been instrumental informing the country about up-coming changes.

Time frame: I can imagine that a number of readers would generally support my case but they would come up with a capital BUT: all this would be still too early. To them I want to argue: changing our national energy system will take some 30 years. Looking at Windhoek’s Van-Eck coal power station which has been built during the early 1970ies still being operational, a coal power station at Walvis Bay we would bind us to coal power until 2050. Thus the risk of a stranded investment becomes immediately obvious.

So “how do we start in our own backyard”? Yes, we need examples. I would not opt for the coal power station at Walvis Bay but – as a first measure – I would complement the brand-new 22.5 MW Anixas oil power station with a 22.5 MW of Photovoltaic (PV) generation field. In this way this oil-based generator would have to run only once the sun is not available.

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The Diesel machines would last several times longer and NamPower could study the usefulness of solar power within their network. For the first time we would make use of an indigenous resource for generating grid electricity (Ruacana Hydro also makes use of RE, but the water comes from Angola!). It would also make sense financially: While the Anixas power station produces expensive electricity accompanied by a lot of carbon dioxide and toxic exhaust, a 22.5 MWp PV system would generate per year 42.75 GWh of clean electricity at about N$1.6/kWh – for the next 25 years (own calculations), without much need for maintenance. 42.75 GWh means that about 1.2% of Namibia’s current electricity requirements would be solar-based. The Anixas station had a price tag of N$375 million, still requiring fuel and maintenance while the solar power station would cost N$480 million, not requiring fuel and being virtually maintenance free.

This – for a start – would help us to lead by example. I do not want to underestimate the already existing pioneering achievements like solar power for Tsumkwe and what has been achieved so far when it comes to energy efficiency (EE) or to the compulsory introduction of solar water heating (SWH) systems for government buildings. But only continued “leading by example” allows mobilizing the Namibian Masses and will remain a strength necessary to prosper in approaching year 2030.

REIAoN

Fukushima calls to re-think: 100% renewables a.s.a.p.

by Conrad Roedern

Namibia puts effort and money into exploring the nuclear power route. What happened in Japan was to happen only once in 100000 years. But it happened twice in 25 years! The catastrophe of Fukushima adds weight to those who criticize nuclear power for being “not safe, not cheap and not abundant”.

A number of countries, including France, the USA and China are pausing for a moment in order to re-evaluate their nuclear programs as well as the existing safety measures for their reactors.

Namibia can fulfill all its energy needs by harvesting indigenous renewable energy (RE). Let us make a feasibility calculation in this respect: the yearly energy requirements of Namibia in terms of electricity (3.6 terawatt hours or TWh) and all other imported fuels amount to some 12 TWh equivalent.

If we wanted to harvest 12 TWh by means of Solar Photovoltaic ( PV) cells of 15% efficiency we would require an area of 6600 hectare (ha), assuming that 1 kWp of PV generation power requires 11m2 and produces 2000kWh pear year.

6600 ha is the area of a small to medium sized farm. The square (8.1 km times 8.1 km) in the picture shows how much it would take of our Namib Desert. In reality most of this area will be distributed as small squares all over the country.

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By the way: 12 TWh of green PV electricity have been produced in Germany during 2010. And had these PV systems been standing in Namibia, they would have produced 24 TWh, which is more than 6 times Namibia’s yearly electricity requirement.

I want to underline with these calculations the realistic possibility to completely power Namibia by means of renewable energy. Obviously I would not necessarily advocate a monoculture of PV cells since we also have wind, hydro, biomass and wave energy.

And the finances? Since RE comes as a modular low-risk technology, it is much more liked by investors and bankers. If financing cost, completion time and insurance is to be included, RE comes often cheaper than the traditional technologies based on finite fuels. Very low running cost and a multitude of societal advantages make decentralized RE generation the choice for coming projects. Nuclear power is only feasible if it is supported by government money. With the Olkiluoto 3 reactor, Finland tries to complete a nuclear power station. What was meant to be a show case of modern nuclear technology developed into a disaster due to extreme overrun in cost and time. The tax payer will have to foot the bill.

So my option for Namibia is clear: let’s go for our indigenous renewable sources as soon as possible (a.s.a.p.). These can be harnessed with infrastructure supplied and installed by Namibian companies. Yes, there are some challenges to overcome in respect of storage. But they appear minute to me if compared with those unsolved problems and pending risks of nuclear power.

I hope that my view has opened the floor for a lively public debate.

REIAoN

European Solutions for African Problems – the Case of Renewable Energy

by Conrad Roedern

Living and working in Namibia I am sometimes reminded of my German roots, asking myself if there is something helpful to learn in terms of renewable energy. In how far can the structural development of the industrialised countries set an example for Namibia?

European solutions for African problems? At least I can see some paradigm shift. Is it realistic to look for increased productivity based only on the quest for capital-intense technology. Can cheap energy combined with an abundance of automation really solve the problems in a country with unemployment as high as 52%? If the divide between rich and poor gets wider in the industrialised countries by the day, what impact will it have on Namibia, a country already known to be one with the most skew distribution of income and wealth?

But within the last 10 years Germany began with re-structuring of the energy sector, the biggest sector within the industrialised economies. The country’s parliament prescribed two measures for change:

a) a law (the “EEG”) that gives priority to the use of renewable energy (RE)
b) a complete phase-out of nuclear power generation.

So let us take a look what actual changes have been brought about by these decisions. For the energy sector we can see a dynamic process being been kicked off which influenced other countries as well. Strong results can be found when it comes to:

1. shifting to decentralised power generation capacity
2. more free-market economy due to alternatives to monopolistic structures
3. fast-track implementation of renewable energy.
4. ease to the environment through the use of RE 5. locally generated wealth by avoiding fuel imports
6. job opportunities within small and medium enterprises
7. exporting RE products or manufacturing equipment

The current situation in Germany

I want to shed some light to what extend this new orientation can serve as an example for Namibia. The expansion of all mature RE provision showed a strong upward trend.

I limited myself to an update on Solar and Wind electricity generation which meanwhile resulted to meaningful contributions towards Germany’s 2009 electricity demand of 550 Tera Watt Hours (TWh). To put it into perspective:

In 2009 Germany produced almost double of the entire Namibian electricity demand (3.6TWh) with its Solar PV feed in systems. And had these systems been producing under the Namibian Sun it would have been 4 times of Namibia’s requirements.

Most interesting is the trend in growth. If Germany can sustain the current pace in growth it would mean that by 2020 Solar will contribute 270TWh and Wind 2050TWh, together already 94% of current demand.

This dynamics kicked off in 2000 when the renewable energy act (EEG) had been approved by the German Parliament. 47 counties have followed in adopting the “EEG-approach”.

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Diagram 1 and 2: Growth of Electricity Production under the German feed-in law for PV-Solar (1) and Wind (2) NB: It is interesting to note that due to a weak wind resource in 2009, production fell below the 2008 figure although more capacity had been installed. Data sourced: Wikipedia for PV-Solar and “Bundesverband Windenergie e. V.”

The situation of Namibia

The resource potential for RE in Namibia exceeds that of Germany considerably. Solar Radiation occurs twice as much! On top we find Namibia sparsely populated with most stretches of desert landscape.

According to the 2005 “Rural Electricity Distribution Master Plan” there one 5885 localities listed of which 3886 are not earmarked for grid connection within the next 20 years.

When it comes to electricity Namibia struggles in terms of generation and distribution. Only for cities and large industries grid electricity provides an economical solution. Even within the commercial farming areas the distance between clients is about 6km, covered by costly medium voltage lines which require maintenance and have to be replaced every 20 to 25 years.

So – should Namibia opt for grid power or should it adopt the decentralized roll – out? If one looks at Namibia’s favourable preconditions and takes the more externalized benefits mentioned earlier into account the answer becomes clear:
Decentralized RE is first choice for Namibia’s off-grid areas. On-grid we will see feed-in systems and wind parks booming, once the question of tariffs for the clean green energy is answered. Here the Namibian Parliament should move and decide asap!

REIAoN