There was, however, no indication of how much of this will be wind. Still, "it's all a tremendous injection of optimism", said Johan van de Berg, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), whose members had begun to suspect that government commitment was flagging.
However, wind was included in a DoE statement announcing the procurement of 1,121MW of renewables capacity for 2016, of which 676MW was for wind.
That allocation, six months beyond schedule, settles part of the fourth round of the renewable independent power producer procurement programme (REIPPPP) — the driving force of wind development since 2011. An unknown amount of remaining capacity under round 4 will be procured last quarter 2015.
The DoE statement also promises two further calls for renewable capacity; one for 1.8GW in the short term and a further 6.3GW in the medium. The 1.8GW call will be fast-tracked, with only mature projects going forward — mainly ones presented in previous REIPPPP rounds.
Round 4 procurement has lifted short-term uncertainty for wind, said Silvia Macri of renewables consultants IHS. But for the future calls to tender, "there are no defined timeframes", she warned, "and there is no clarity on the future balance between wind, solar and other technologies." Macri highlighted the fast-growing solar PV sector, which won 415MW in round 4, as a major contender.
SAWEA's Van den Berg is much more upbeat. Of the 4GW of renewables procured since 2011 under previous REIPPP rounds, "almost 50% went to wind and there's no reason that should change", he said, forecasting 6GW of cumulative wind capacity by 2020.
Macri points to the integrated resource plan (IRP) 2010-30, which informs REIPPPP objectives and is revised every two years. A draft revision was presented for 2015 in November 2014, with some scenarios halving the former 8.5GW wind forecast to 2030.
High capacity factorsBut that draft was based on "old and false assumptions," said Van den Berg. SAWEA believes the 600MW of wind now online are outperforming forecasts, with operational capacity factors averaging 39.9%. This compares with the IRP's initial 30% estimate in 2011.
None of the country's wind developments are likely to have a capacity factor below 35%, according to Van den Berg. He expects output to be even higher for the 1.4GW of wind projects now under construction or close to being built.
Furthermore, in Round 4, wind power offered prices at R560/MWh ($US47.14); "really very low" he says. He doubts solar PV, selling at R786/MWh ($66.16/MWh), could get that low. Final procurement prices for wind averaged at R619/MWh ($52.10M/MWh), making it "competitive and effective" in tackling South Africa's chronic generation shortfall, according to Van den Berg.
"In 2014, wind cost the system next to nothing," he added, because it avoided load shedding and related compensation payments. It also offset combined cycle gas, costing as much as $240/MWh. Van den Berg expects the new IRP, expected to be published in the summer, to factor in the new data.
Socio-economic spin-offs will help keep wind central stage. Currently, local content for online wind and solar power is at 49%, said Van den Berg. The IRP is aiming at 65-70%.
Large sophisticated global wind turbine corporations already active in South Africa can help deliver that. They include Europe's Siemens, Nordex and Vestas and China's Goldwind. So too can the big developers, which include European utilities EDF, Enel and Iberdrola and China's Longyuan.
Yet, "anybody investing in South Africa learns not to count their chickens before they're hatched", warned Gabriele Maraschin of Italian utility Building Energy, awarded a 140MW wind project in Round 4. IHS agrees and is withholding its forecast for future new wind capacity until the new IRP is approved.