Reinventing steam power technology for a low-carbon future
As prevalent debates concerning the implementation of carbon neutral sources continue to make headlines, also increasingly rife, is the energy industry’s endeavour to explore a broader array of renewable energy sources including biomass.
Great strides have been made in Africa’s development in biomass. Interestingly, Africa has the highest portion of bioenergy, at 45% of the total energy mix, thereby
Within a global context, using GE’s renewable steam technology, the Kamisu Biomass Power Generation plant in Japan will run on 100 percent biomass to generate 50 megawatts (MW) of reliable energy. According to GE, this is one example of how the company is adapting its technologies to meet market demand to support more renewable fuel sources like biomass.
Lee Dawes, GE Steam Power Sub-Saharan Africa CEO says the South African context will be different. While biomass and waste to energy are considered in the latest IRP, there has been no clear determination on how it will be implemented. “A consideration to reduce CO2 emission could be a coal to biomass conversion. Depending on the size of a plant, typically, existing power plants can be adapted to utilise a wide range of biomass fuels up to 20% to supplement or displace coal providing additional benefit to reduce CO2, NOx and Sox”.
Notwithstanding, in accordance with the Paris Agreement and mounting concerns for the adverse effects of climate change, South African policies are striving to accelerate decarbonisation while meeting the need for rapidly growing demand for reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable power. He also argues that while biomass is considered a renewable energy source, its sustainability will depend on continuous growth and the cultivation of the biomass sources to ensure a carbon neutral state. Where the biomass is a secondary revenue stream, it often contributes to the commercial viability of such projects”.
With all these developments in energy, it remains imperative to note that, despite the energy source employed, maintaining a sustainable balance between developmental as well as environmental national needs while managing current challenges to ensure energy security, economic stability and jobs, remains high on government’s agenda. Policy makers will have to devise and implement strategies to ensure a successful transition, taking into consideration the various implications of such a shift, such as the interdependencies of fuel sources along with impact of renewable penetration on the grid.
It is critical to also note that responsible investment in energy does not only concern infrastructure and technology, it similarly concerns people and policy choices. GE believes it has a role to play in this by investing in the right technologies, developing the right technical skills needed to help the industries grow and support the development of local suppliers. Dawes notes that, in partnership with Eskom, GE has invested considerably in skills training having trained a significant amount of skilled and unskilled youths, comprising artisans, welders, engineers, fitters and boilermakers. In addition, they support local businesses through a preferential procurement process.