The electrification of urban areas in South Africa, including many informal settlements reached its culmination during recent years. However, the electrification of rural areas still has a long way to go before most of the rural communities will be provided with a reliable and sustainable electricity supply. The national electricity grid managed by the parastatal, ESKOM, has been experiencing problems due to various reasons, particularly since 2008. The further development of rural electrification is, at present, in the doldrums mainly due to the shortage in the generation capacity available to ESKOM which needs to be made available to the users already connected to the national grid. The increases in the prices of electricity are starting to be felt by urban as well as rural communities. The primary electricity infrastructure (i.e. coal-fired power stations, major supply lines and distribution of electricity within urban areas) is becoming rapidly insufficient and cannot sustain a supply against the demand for electricity from the existing and future users connected to the national grid.
The potential electricity users in the rural areas of primarily the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces have to wait until the national utility, ESKOM, is able to increase its margin between the supply and demand generation capacities and satisfy delayed electrification expansion development of those users already connected. Small hydropower schemes can play a critical role in providing energy access to remote areas in South Africa as stand-alone isolated mini grids (Van Dijk, Van Vuuren, Bhagwan and Loots, 2014). Internationally, small hydro is considered to be the best proven renewable energy technology, ideal for the electrification of remote communities (Loots, Van Dijk, Van Vuuren, Bhagwan and Kurtz, 2014).
Rural electrification is the provision of long term, reliable and satisfactory electricity service to households in remote, rural communities via grid or decentralized/centralized, renewable/non-renewable energy resource supply. Many consider electrification as a fundamental strategy for poverty alleviation in terms of financial, energy and sustainable developments (Bagdadee, 2014). Rural electrification has the potential to improve the standard of living of people in a developing country such as South Africa. Universal access to modern forms of energy is still far from being a reality in many parts of South Africa. Many remote areas – especially small settlements, villages or farms - will never be connected to a national grid, often due to their remoteness, sparse population and relatively low average energy demands. With 80% of the urban areas and 45% rural areas electrified, the emphasis of the South African Electrification Programme is shifting from the urban to the rural areas of South Africa. Where feasible grid electricity will be extended as far as possible into the rural areas. However, large numbers of households and communities will not be connected to the national electricity grid for the foreseeable future.
Alternative, energy technologies will need to be developed and implemented to ensure that the South African Government’s objective of universal access of energy & electricity to all its citizens is achieved (Szewczuk, 2000).
In July 2011, Cabinet unveiled 12 implementation plans for immediate action by government. Action Plan 6 called for “Scaling up rural-development programmes including investment in rural areas and the revitalization of smaller towns”. Responsibility for implementing Action Plan 6 was given to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) in conjunction with the Presidency. The DRDLR took immediate action and by September 2011 had initiated a programme which focused on people living in 23 distressed municipal districts. These areas are home to almost 18 million of South Africa’s rural residents, many of which are living in poverty (DRDLR, 2013).
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has aimed at piloting a range of innovative technology solutions to enhance service delivery through an initiative called the Innovation Partnership for Rural Development (IPRD) Programme. The IPRD Programme is an initiative of the DST aimed at value addition to the targeted 23 District Municipalities in response to some of their prioritized needs (DST, 2013).
DST is the lead agency steering the IPRD initiative in close co-operation with local municipalities, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. DST has contracted two implementation agencies, one of which is the Water Research Commission (WRC), to showcase and test a suite of water, sanitation, micro-hydroelectric power and smart geyser technology solutions at municipal demonstration sites.
The WRC contracted the Water Division of the Civil Engineering Department of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT) of the University of Pretoria to conduct research within the IPRD Programme on “Building Capacity for the Implementation of Small‐Scale Hydropower Development for Rural Electrification in South Africa”.
One of the study areas within the targeted 23 District Municipalities is the OR Tambo District Municipality (DM) in the Eastern Cape Province. For the initial identification of potential sites for small scale hydropower generation within the OR Tambo District Municipality, a desktop study was utilized. The focus of the desktop study was to preliminarily identify sites based solely on potential head and flow available.
The different rivers and river sections within the OR Tambo DM were investigated to find height differences within the different rivers which could be suitable for small scale hydropower generation. Height differences were verified by site investigations and physical measurements. Sites with a higher potential head difference initially gained preference over sites with higher flows due to the increase in cost of larger equipment necessary to convey the larger flows.
The geometrical layout of the Thina Falls in the Thina River within the Mhlontlo Local Municipality as well as the relatively high perennial flows within the Thina River offer a feasible opportunity for Small-scale Hydropower development. The total theoretical hydropower generation at Thina Falls, utilizing all the flow present in the river 95% of the time and incorporating the total height difference between the upstream and downstream levels of the Thina Falls, amounts to 350 kW. This potential reaches megawatts when higher flows are utilized within higher flow periods.
PROPOSED HYDROPOWER PLANT
The Kwa Madiba SSHP scheme was designed as a run-of-river scheme on the Thina River within the Mhlontlo Local Municipality in the OR Tambo District Municipality of the Eastern Cape Province. The intake is located at the top of the Thina Falls and the turbine room and tailrace is located at the bottom of the Thina Falls. The intake and the turbine room are connected by a 42 m x 355 mm diameter intake pipeline and a 116 m x 355 mm diameter penstock constructed through directional drilling. Table 1 shows an overview of the technical data of the Kwa Madiba SSHP scheme.
Table 1 - Kwa Madiba SSHP scheme technical data
Design Flow Rate
Design Power Output
Total Penstock Length
Transmission Line Length
Number of households
The infrastructure components of the Kwa Madiba SSHP scheme are categorized into three sections, namely civil components, electro-mechanical components and electrical components. A summary of the infrastructure components of the Kwa Madiba SSHP schemes is as follows:
· Civil components
o Intake with primary screen and cleaning rack
o 42 m x 355 mm Class 6 HDPE intake pipeline
o 116 m x 355 mm Class 6 HDPE penstock
o 6m containerized turbine room
· Electro-mechanical components
o IREM ECOWATT Micro hydroelectric power plant type TBS 3-0.5
o BANKI turbine horizontal axis in AISI 304 stainless steel mod.3-0.5 (Figure 2)
o three-phase synchronous 4-pole generatortype AS60
· Electrical components
o 1140 m Transmission lines
o 1000 m Distribution lines
A similar Banki turbine was installed at Bloemwater’s Brandkop Reservoir. 350 ℓ/s of water supplied to the Brandkop Reservoir via the Caledon-Bloemfontein pipeline is diverted through the turbine to generate 96 kW of electricity (Van Dijk, Kgwale, Bhagwan and Loots, 2015). Figure 3 shows the installation of the Banki turbine at Brandkop. Figure 4 shows the layout of the Kwa Madiba SSHP plant from intake to turbine room.
The 2011 Census showed 117 households within the Kwa Madiba rural settlement, although from the site visit the number of households were less, approximately 39 households. Environmentally the Kwa Madiba/Thina Falls potential hydropower site will have a minimal impact on the environment due to the fact that only small amounts of flow will be rerouted through the directionally drilled penstock for hydropower generation, the technology is a non-consumptive use of water and no scouring occurs due to the operation of the plant. Small amounts of flow are sufficient due to the high available head difference at the Thina Falls. The social impact on the community is positive as the 39 households will now have access to electricity. The introduction of electricity to the community and the added possibility/opportunity of connecting a pump to the electrical supply for pumping raw water to the community for the irrigation of their crops as subsistence farmers, further uplifts the social standing of Kwa Madiba. Figure 5 shows a picture of the members of the Kwa Madiba community at the downstream side of the Thina Falls taken during a site visit.
The designs of the Kwa Madiba SSHP plant have been given the green light by the funders as well as the Local and District Municipalities and a Water Use License Application (WULA) has been submitted. Upon approval of the WULA, construction of the Kwa Madiba SSHP plant will commence.
Some of the major current and ongoing challenges faced by the project team include obtaining planned future electricity grid information from the electricity service providers (ESP’s), the identification of land ownership and development rights and the initial identification of potential sites to be developed.
A lack of historical flow data for several rivers within the rural areas of the study focus area necessitates extensive flow data capturing to be done over a sufficient period of time in order to predict the power generating potential at certain sites. Due to time and budget constraints on the project, only rivers with sufficient historical flow data records were included in the initial desktop study. This posed the challenge of identifying and developing sites with technically and economically less potential than potential sites unable to be identified due to historical data constraints.
Accessibility of potential small-scale hydropower sites within the rural areas of the study focus area was a challenge, not only to be able to visit identified sites and verify desktop study calculations with physical measurements, but also to obtain sites within a high enough degree of accessibility in order to allow for the physical construction of the small-scale hydropower plant.
On the financial side of the project, the poor performance of the South African currency over the last two quarters of 2015, as well as the shortage of local turbine manufacturers, had a severely negative impact on the project costs. The increasing Euro/Rand exchange rate and its effect on turbine cost as well as taxation on turbines imported mainly from Europe caused a 30 percent increase in electro-mechanical equipment cost of certain sites within the project. In addition, the long lead times for obtaining approvals and the immense number of role-players and stakeholders, further complicates the matter and adds to the negative financial impact on the project.
A lack of procedural and regulatory legislation pertaining to small-scale hydropower in particular, causes the project to be subject to the same basic regulations as other electricity and water resource ventures, i.e. Water Use License Applications (WULA). This poses the danger of prolonging the project completion time as well as further increased project costs.
The following outcomes and results were obtained from the research on the project thus far.
· Small-scale hydropower is a feasible alternative for rural electrification
· The levelised cost of small-scale hydropower projects indicate that the cost of Small-scale hydropower for low energy generation is high compared to the levelised cost of grid connected electricity supply, however, the remoteness of small-scale hydropower for rural electrification and the cost of infrastructure required to connect remote rural communities to the local or national electricity grid, renders small-scale hydropower for rural electrification feasible on this basis.
· Standard containerized turbine room units, similar to the design of the Kwa Madiba SSHP plant, should be developed for certain configurations of small-scale hydropower and rolled out for rural electrification in South Africa.
· The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has been approached to review and amend the current applicable General Authorization, GA1199, to include the construction of small-scale hydropower projects towards non-grid electrification in the rural areas of South Africa.
The research project was funded by the Department of Science and Technology and the Water Research Commission whose support is acknowledged with gratitude.
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