Time to get down to business and build the world’s new power system

The COP21 climate summit has created renewed momentum for international collaboration to combat climate change.Now everyone needs to play their part says Eddie O'Connor

[image_library_tag 28af2bc8-2d70-4e4c-ab68-5dadc37b4fe6 200×250 alt=” ddie onnor chief executive ainstream enewable ower” width=”200″ border=”0″ ] Eddie O’Connor, chief executive, Mainstream Renewable Power

 There is still much to be done to create the appropriate framework to put a price on carbon and encourage investment in sustainable technologies – without the need for long-term incentives. In 2008 we recognised this future and set up Mainstream to help build it.

We are developing and building wind and solar plant across a number of growth markets including South Africa, Chile, and Egypt without the need for the generous tariffs formerly available in Europe and the USA. The dramatic fall in technology costs means it is possible to deliver power onto the grid for less cost than new coal or gas generation.

Since 2009 the cost of onshore wind has fallen by more than 60 per cent. The cost of solar PV installations has dipped even lower, with an 82 per cent cost reduction since 2009. In fact, both of these technologies now compete on price with new fossil-fuel generation, let alone nuclear power, in most growth markets.

Additional advantages such as the time it takes to construct a wind or solar plant compared to the long lead times for constructing gas, coal or nuclear plants makes it a no-brainer. This is already happening in countries from Chile to South Africa. In the most recent tender for electricity in Chile, wind and solar projects even beat existing coal-fired generation on price.

More importantly, with a series of international policy and financing initiatives now in place to help meet increasing power demand in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, there is now a significant opportunity for global investors to help deliver access to energy in those areas where it is needed the most. We can also see a range of new investment opportunities, including innovative technological breakthroughs, and the latest R&D both in generation and storage, driven by economies of scale and a competitive investor environment. I believe that by 2020 the cost of a megawatt hour of wind plus storage will be the same as we pay for a megawatt hour or wind today.

In telecoms, Africa has managed to skip a generation of development and has gone directly to mobile networks. There is no reason why we cannot do the same for power systems using renewables. Africa can develop its energy resources without having to make investments in older forms of power generation and grids, mobilising resources from the private sector.

Mainstream delivered three of Africa’s first large-scale wind and solar plants into operation in 2014 and currently holds a pipeline of 5.7GW of potential capacity across Ghana, Egypt, and South Africa in this effort to electrify Africa. Our increasing footprint in this region has enabled us to implement supply chain efficiencies across project lifecycles, ensuring live capacity as quickly as possible. This is best exemplified by the quick turnaround for our Noupoort wind farm in South Africa’s Northern Cape, which has just been connected to the national electricity grid.

It has taken us one year between securing financial close and energisation of this 80MW plant, a timescale unheard of for fossil-fuel generation. In a power-stressed country an additional 80MW will help meet unserved demand and create significant additional economic value.

We are embarking on a new era of responsible development. COP21 has augmented and universalised the momentum towards a zero carbon economy. With developers like Mainstream already driving this activity in growth markets all over the world, we are building a new global energy future.


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