Energy constraints have been a major setback for the South African economy, and energy experts maintain that diversifying the energy mix will contribute to greater energy stability.

Many African countries, including South Africa, are currently coal-fired energy economies, however the country has begun moving towards a greater incorporation of renewable energy, with hydropower being pegged as an extremely viable renewable energy source.

With hydropower forming part of South Africa’s long-term energy master plan, there is a goal to source 2,600 MW of hydro-electric capacity from the Southern African Development Community region.

And while private sector investment in the Independent Procurement Programme continues to operate under uncertainty, a few local hydropower plants have recently received international recognition, marking a stamp of approval for the progress of the local industry.

Renewable Energy Holdings (REH) recently received the 2017 Monsonyi Award for Excellence in Hydropower from the International Hydropower Association. They award was presented at the World Hydropower Congress which took place in early May.

Anton Louis Olivier, REH Managing Director.

Anton Louis Olivier, REH Managing Director.

When accepting the award, REH manging director Louis Olivier said huge potential exists for hydropower development in Africa. He was also thankful that his team helped bring their many renewable energy visions to life.

REH is one of South Africa’s first independent power producers (IPPs) and is experienced in developing hydropower plants from the greenfield stage through to financial close.

Hydropower projects

Together with engineering company Aurecon, REH has developed and implemented three small hydropower plants: Stortemelk Hydro and, as elements of the Bethlehem Hydro Project, Merino Hydro and Sol Plaatje hydropower stations.

The Bethlehem Hydro Project was initiated to generate renewable electricity from the constant flow of water which runs into the Ash River as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Aurecon was appointed to undertake the project management, detailed design, construction supervision, ECO monitoring and contract administration duties for Merino and Sol Plaatje mini hydro stations. The two sites were commissioned in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The Stortemelk hydropower plant, developed under a project finance structure, has an installed capacity of 4.4 MW and operates as a run-of-river power station with an estimated annual output of 28GWh.

A single vertical Kaplan turbine was installed in a powerhouse alongside the existing Botterkloof Dam, situated on the Ash River in the Free State province of South Africa. Construction commenced in October 2014 and was operational in July 2016. Aurecon said this project was delivered on time and within the project budget, without using any project contingencies.

“We are proud to have been involved in these projects, which delivered many firsts for hydropower stations in South Africa,” Bertrand Rochecouste Collet, technical director at Aurecon said. “Aurecon’s professional relationship with REH Power Development over the past 15 years has been extremely rewarding and we look forward to working with them on several new hydropower projects in the future.”

Aurecon engineer, Ross Mahaffey, who attended the 2017 World Hydropower Congress said developers face a number of challenges when implementing hydropower projects in South Africa. He added that it was crucial developers share their experiences and findings at international platforms such as the World Hydropower Congress.