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The Rainbow Nation keeps getting greener: this is EGP’s ongoing South African journey

6 min.

The Rainbow Nation keeps getting greener: this is EGP’s ongoing South African journey

Since 2012, EGP has generated green power in the African state and now, with seven renewable power plants worth 520 MW of installed capacity, it sets the goal to reach and surpass 1200 MW over the next few years. This is a story of patience, perseverance, and confidence in Africa’s potential for sustainable growth.

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The year 2011 saw South Africa’s Ministry of Energy launch its Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REI4P). This ambitious endeavor is part of the government’s Integrated Resource Plan that calls for challenging goals to be met, like reaching a 17,800 MW renewable power output by 2030, with 4,300 MW slated to go online by the end of 2019 and a further 2,000 MW by 2021. Among other planned goals, a reduction in CO2 emissions worth 17.25 MT, the creation of 30,000 new jobs, and above all, a comprehensive plan to foster the social and economic development of the country. 

This proves that South Africa is a land of opportunities although faces important contradictions.

In 2011, Enel Green Power was getting ready for round 1 of the REI4P: a way to taste the water and get the feel for an inherently complex regulatory framework and bureaucratic machine. The initial outcome was far from positive; leading many companies would have given up altogether: but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

In 2012, EGP took part in round 2, bidding the first tender in the process, a 10 MW solar PV facility in Upington. This was the first piece of our own South African energy mosaic. 2013 was the breakthrough year. Round grants EGP with a total of 6 new renewable projects: the Nojoli (88 MW) and Gibson Bay (111 MW) wind farms, both located in the Eastern Cape, as well as 4 Solar PV parks for a total of 313 MW, namely Adams (82.5 MW) in the Northern Cape province, Pulida (82.5 MW) in the Free State province, Tom Burke (66 MW) in Limpopo and Paleishuewel (82.5 MW) in the Western Cape.

Hence, this was the time to consolidate our presence in the country by laying the foundations for a future of sustainable development. The EGP South African local team was established, featuring a team of local professionals that has grown to manage 5 further wind energy projects worth 735 MW in total, thanks to the 2015 tender we’ve been awarded in round 4, giving us the green light to build the Nxuba, Oyster Bay, Garob, Karusa, and Soetwater wind farms. The latter two will go online by the end of 2021, thrusting EGP’s wind energy capacity over the 900 MW mark.

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A story of perseverance, empathy, and integration

The Rainbow Nation is facing a turning point in its energy policy. Coal-fired power stations, which make up about 90% of the country’s total installed capacity, are now reaching the end of their life cycle, with some facilities being 50 years and older. The government pledged to meet its international obligations on tackling climate change, with decarbonization seen as a mandatory step.

The country’s economy is struggling, with unemployment levels dangerously close to 30% and excessive reliance on a mining and resource extraction industry that fails to stay competitive on global markets.

Furthermore, companies investing in South Africa are called to thoroughly handle issues of representativity by awarding local businesses and communities with a minimum stake of 2.5% in the company project, while a mandatory variable share from 2 to 7% of revenues must be earmarked for investment in community projects.

This means that in South Africa, every choice, decision, and approval is the result of a lengthy dialogue process involving local communities at all levels. While this process may seem overly intricate, it’s unquestionably necessary.

South Africa has undoubtedly proved a very complex context, where political issues, a jumbled regulatory framework, and bureaucratic red tape caused widespread and recurrent delays in the construction of awarded renewable projects. The financial close of round 3 projects came six months late, while round 4 racked up a delay of over three years.

We’ve opted to take up the challenge and win it by embracing the local culture and social framework, understanding its mentality and the needs of local communities, while respecting strict regulatory requirements.

Our biggest asset and strength has been and always will be the people. Driven, passionate and tough-minded professionals that unleashed their brilliant skillset while adopting a Glocal approach.

The Italian style making headway in South Africa

A new challenge needed excellence in its implementation. Excellence in construction, teamwork, and cutting-edge solutions.

Enel Green Power has always been the standard-bearer of what Italy has best to offer:  attention to detail, culture, resilience, inventiveness, and craftiness. Since 2012, we’ve fostered the export of Italy’s know-how and manufacturing used in power plants. But above all, we’ve showcased the first-ever implementation of solar panels built in 3SUN factory in Catania, a European center of excellence in the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic panels.

A future of shared value

A major investment in social projects to benefit local communities managed to create countless opportunities for shared value. The biggest opportunities came from the creation of new jobs through the employment of local manpower and suppliers during the construction phase of our infrastructure.

EGP went a step further, setting up training centers for specialized technical personnel that saw over 2 thousand workers earn their fully-fledged qualification with a solid representation of South African women.

Meanwhile, areas with a strong digital divide called for the setting of free Wi-Fi service and the implementation of technology workshops. As we’re treading the trail first blazed by Nelson Mandela, placing education as the cornerstone of development, our commitment is on providing clean energy for local schools through small-scale PV systems, awarding scholarships and food programs for students.

Last but not least, a few months ago our commitment on healthcare delivered the Sandveld Health Centre, an outpatient clinic serving the community of Paleisheuwel.

Applied innovation is driving growth

New frontiers require cutting-edge manufacturing. Since the onset of our first wind and solar projects, right up to the new entries of Karusa and Soetwater, EGP has implemented tools for real-time assessment on the infrastructure status, while the digitalization of systems allows constant monitoring of systems, together with remote support for all activities. The intelligent tracking system allows technical personnel to promptly carry out quality checks and assessments on turbine components.

These systems and tools allow a faster, reliable and precise data collection, delivering an overall improvement in the quality of performed works and easy connections between workers in and out of construction areas. 

South Africa was our base camp and now, the guiding star in the field of African renewables. At Enel Green Power we’ve challenged ourselves to grow steadily, one megawatt at the time, and this challenge is one we’re winning by being South Africa and the continent’s largest private renewables operator.

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