SUSTAINABLE ENERGY Optimising energy storage and thermal balancing The Wärtsilä Energy team believe that there is a case for South Africa to re-evaluate its energy consumption and turn to alternative solutions for its daily usage. South Africa, as an energy-intensive economy, is a major contributor to greenhouse carbon emissions, sourcing an estimated 77% of electricity from coal. However, together with many other countries across the world, South Africa is committed to making the necessary transitions to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. With increasing power outages and the ongoing threat of loadshedding, the need for sustainable energy production in the country is becoming more apparent. This presents an opportunity for South Africa to re-evaluate energy consumption and turn to alternative solutions for its daily usage. Challenges in the energy sector The latest COP26 finance arrangement, which is assisting South Africa to transition to renewable energy sources, has gained large momentum and was vigorously discussed by many participants at COP27. Of all the energy sources, solar is the most viable and the most sought-after. However, even in the hottest regions, the panels can only produce electricity for a maximum of 12 hours a day, therefore only converting a small percentage of available power into usable energy. This is also the case with wind turbines. The wind doesn’t always blow hard enough, and sometimes doesn’t blow at all, to produce the energy needed. Energy use and preservation is rife with challenges and there is a need for improvements. This is where thermal balancing becomes beneficial, as it can store excess energy from renewable sources. Thermal systems can assist in creating balance for energy demand and supply, reducing peak demand and consumption by storing energy for when it is most needed and increasing its efficiency and reliability. Thus, the conversion and storage of renewable energy in the form of thermal energy can also aid in the acceleration of renewables in the energy mix. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which coordinates the national drive for generation expansion and demand-side intervention programmes, supports a diverse energy mix, aiming to develop an effective balance of energy supply and demand. However, guaranteeing that people get power when and where needed is not as simple as it sounds. South Africa’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate, and with the upsurge of industrialisation in a developing nation, the need for a continuous supply of energy is skyrocketing. The increase is due to mounting energy use in households – by heating and cooling systems for example – and in commercial businesses, like warehousing. Energy storage: maintaining supply and demand So, how do we keep the lights on in South Africa with an energy mix where we have an increasingly higher share, and is energy storage a solution? To avoid excess energy from being left unused in off-peak 32 | www.opportunityonline.co.za
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