Durban plans to be the first city in Africa to generate electricity from the sea.
The project, which is being driven by the city and business, involves harnessing the power of the fast-flowing Agulhas ocean current and transforming this into energy using floating generators.
If the project gets the go-ahead it could “transform” Durban’s green investment potential, with the initial R155-million development unit set for installation by this time next year, without any cost to ratepayers.
Durban Investment Promotion Agency (Dipa) acting head Russell Curtis said while environmental impacts were yet to be scrutinised, he believed the project would speed up investment into sustainable energy projects in the region.
“If everyone is happy from the environmental point of view, Durban will be the first customer to get electricity from the project. It’s a milestone.”
Derek Morgan of the eThekwini Energy Unit said: “The Agulhas is one of the most consistent currents in the world. So, if the ocean current generation was to happen, Durban would be an ideal location to start harnessing it. If we can get it right, it has the potential to completely transform the city into a green energy location for investment.”
At a workshop to be hosted tomorrow by the KZN Sustainable Energy Forum, two companies – the US-based Hydro Alternative Energy (HAE) and the SA-based Occtur Ocean Energy – will present their hydrokinetic power generating proposals.
“We want to encourage companies to sign up to the KZN Sustainable Energy Fourm – it’s free – so they can be kept abreast of developments and the opportunities for tender for work on the project,” Curtis said.
Mark Antonucci, co-chairman and chief executive officer of HAE, said the prototype system, called Oceanus, was the equivalent of a five-storey building in height and would be anchored to the ocean floor up to 100m below the surface.
“We have identified four sites offshore where the development unit could be placed, but we are here now to establish whether or not those sites are viable and what the protocols are, such as environmental impact law.
“We will put up the money for the units and the installation – about R155m for the first one – and will then sell the electricity to the city and to Eskom. That is how we make our money,” he said.
Local scientists and marine ecology experts could not be reached on Tuesday for comment on the possible impacts of the proposal, which could include death, injury or disruption for mammals such as whales and dolphins and other sea creatures.
Antonucci, however, asserted that the generators would not harm the ocean ecology.
“The vanes (driving the turbine) move very, very slowly and the spaces between them are up to 2m, which allows for fish which live in deeper waters to swim through.
“The units are placed too deep to affect shipping lanes and are at least 30km to 40km offshore. The development unit will also be placed at the edge of the Agulhas current rather than in the middle, which is tremendously powerful,” he said.
The unit, Antonucci claimed, made no noise and would not create sound disturbance for animals such as whales and dolphins.
The development of the system is expected to create a diverse demand for jobs from the engineering, maritime and manufacturing industries.
Morgan said the pilot unit would possibly produce less than one megawatt of electricity.
“To put this in perspective, the city uses about 3 000MW at peak power. However, the energy potential in ocean current is essentially limitless.”
Curtis said that when units were installed to produce 30MW of electricity the project would be considered a commercial success. - The Mercury
* A workshop on the project will be held at the Priority Zone, 77 Monty Naicker (Pine) Street, Durban, opposite the International Convention Centre, from 11am on Thursday.