The third annual STERG symposium was held at in the Knowledge Centre of the Engineering Faculty of Stellenbosch University on 14 and 15 July 2015.  The first day of the STERG symposium was also the last day of the fifth annual Renewable Energy Postgraduate Symposium held by the Centre of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies.

On the first day of the STERG symposium thirteen postgraduate students and post-doctoral researchers presented on various CSP research topics.  On the second day of the symposium individuals from industry presented on CSP in South Africa.

The symposium was ended with a panel discussion by representatives from CSP project developers, ACWA and Abengoa, as well as Eskom, STERG and Helio100, a CSP technology development project funded by the Technology Innovation Agency.

The opening question of the panel discussion was on how to get CSP local in South Africa.

The reality and level of contribution needed to establish a local CSP industry was captured in the diverse inputs from the panel members.  The transferring of skills, training and development of engineers for CSP projects at University level as well as the need for local technology development companies is fundamental to laying a strong foundation for a local industry.  Increasing the amount of projects available to project developers as well as the capacity allocated to CSP in the Integrated Resource Plan to 10 000 MW is needed in order to show the real potential for investment.  South Africa’s potential as one of the best sunspots on the planet further contributes to the country’s opportunity to supply to a CSP market catering to all southern African countries and also the rest of the world.  Furthermore, a comment was made about the local content requirement for projects developed through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer’s Procurement Programme and that this could be increased to further benefit local companies, given local options are financially more attractive than what can be imported.

The second question of the panel discussion was on the role universities have to play in relation to industry.

Apart from producing engineers for the workforce, universities are ultimately equipped for innovation and blue-sky research which should be viewed as indispensable to industry.  Funding that enables these activities are however a constraint at the moment.  Continuous research to investigate opportunities for cost reduction in CSP is also invaluable to the industry and especially to the contribution of establishing a CSP industry in South Africa.  From witnessing the cost reduction of wind, a project developer with experience in renewable in Europe, commented that it can be expected that CSP will also follow a path of cost reduction and capacity increase.  Although CSP is more expensive than wind and PV power at the moment, it is already comparable with new conventional base load technologies such as nuclear and coal and even cheaper than current mid-merit and peak-load electricity generation options.

The discussion concluded that universities should continue to approach industries with innovative ideas in component and system developments with the option of industry role-players to also invest in funding.  The role of academic institutions also remains relevant in providing guidance to government and in identifying how CSP can provide solutions to problems related to power supply in the country.

Contributor:  Prof Frank Dinter, Director of STERG