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VIREN SOOKHUN | Offshore wind could solve future power requirements

Time to start is now

Power-generating windmill turbines are pictured at the 'Amrumbank West' offshore windpark in the northern sea near the island of Amrum, Germany.
Power-generating windmill turbines are pictured at the 'Amrumbank West' offshore windpark in the northern sea near the island of Amrum, Germany.
Image: Morris MacMatzen

Globally, offshore wind is a technology that is seeing significant growth as the world strives towards more renewable energy solutions. In Europe, there are plans to create “energy islands” of offshore generation with battery storage and undersea cables to feed the power back to shore. This could be an ideal solution for SA’s long-term power requirements beyond load shedding, as we strive for sustainability and economic growth. However, sourcing the right skills for development and deployment is critical, and partnering with a turnkey employment solutions provider will be invaluable.

Innovative technology

Wind-based energy production is not a new concept, however, because conditions out at sea can be rough and unpredictable, applications have been limited for offshore wind. New technology innovations are allowing for advancements that will enable turbines to withstand much tougher conditions, such as floating turbines. These floating turbines will make offshore wind a viable option in SA, and this alone could secure the future energy requirements of the country many times over. In addition, three-bladed turbines enable more power generation with the same footprint and providers are also beginning to produce blades that are fully recyclable at end of life.

Solving our future power requirements

A study on the potential of offshore wind energy as a power source for SA prepared by the CSIR for the EU-SA Partners for Growth Programme in March 2022 finds that “SA has a significant shallow water and an abundant deepwater offshore wind resource of very high quality” and that “offshore wind could play a significant role in a just transition from oil, gas and coal”. Another study by the University of Stellenbosch department of mechanical and mechatronic engineering found that wind turbines installed off the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape coasts could potentially supply between 15% and 800% of SA’s yearly electricity demand.

For the long term

While offshore wind is not a quick fix for our current situation, it is essential to take a long-term view of power production to avoid further challenges in the future. This technology could provide all the power we need and more, not only to avoid shortages but to power areas that are currently not connected to the grid and to cater for the growing demand for energy as the population grows and as digitalisation and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) advance. With offshore wind generation, we will be able to provide the whole country with electricity and power for the smart cities and smart homes of the future.

The skills gap

Of course, there is the ever-present skills gap to consider, especially when it comes to new technologies like offshore wind. A turnkey employment services provider is the ideal partner for IPPs implementing these solutions. Such a partner can assist with sourcing the required skills, cross-skilling those with experience in offshore oil to be able to work on wind projects, importing skills where necessary and even repatriating local skills who have moved overseas. An employment partner can also assist with the complex logistics involved in people mobility, getting them to the ships and back again, as well as administrative tasks like work permits and visas for foreign nationals who need to be employed on projects. An employment partner will also take care of all of the daily tasks around human resources, industrial relations, payroll and more, so that projects can get off the ground as fast and as smoothly as possible.

The time is now

Offshore wind production involves complexities and challenges and will take some time to get up and running, so the time to start is now. Feasibility studies need to be conducted to find the best sites for wind farms, investors need to be sourced, and grid infrastructure needs to be upgraded to cater for additional generation and expansion. With more renewable independent power producers, Eskom will be empowered to shift away from generation and to become a transmission company, moving away from coal towards a cleaner future, while lessening its debt burden and improving efficiency.

Sookhun is a managing director at Oxyon People Solutions

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