A separate exercise to the broader study into obstacles facing renewable energy provision, the study is designed to identify geographical areas in which large-scale wind and solar PV projects can be developed.
It was begun in late 2012 and commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The locations should minimise significant negative effects on the environment while ensuring projects are commercially attractive and offer the maximum social and economic benefits.
Co-manager Lydia Cape-Ducluzeau says the study focuses on five provinces for solar PV — Northern Cape, Western Cape, North West, Free State and Eastern Cape. The study areas for wind are based on Wind Atlas of South Africa data: Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape.
These renewable energy development zones (REDZ) will have no effect on projects already approved — unless their authorisation lapses — but projects in the identified zones will benefit from streamlined approvals. If projects are concentrated in these areas, Eskom will find it easier to plan its new transmission lines.
The updated IRP 2010 targeted 3,700MW of energy from renewables by 2017 and projects totalling 3,933MW already have the green light. The target by 2018 is 17,800MW.
In the first phase of its study, the CSIR team has identified preliminary areas, in positive and negative mapping exercises.
Positive mapping looks at where resources are, the existing grid and the need for socioeconomic development, in particular the areas that the government has identified for industrial use such as special economic zones, industrial development zones, ports and solar and wind corridors. These fit with areas where manufacturing will be concentrated — solar plants around Upington, and wind turbines around Atlantis.
Negative mapping excludes areas of high sensitivity.
"We ended up with 15 study areas for wind and eight for solar PV," Ms Cape-Ducluzeau says. "We approached the renewables industry for their views, and they helped us to further define our study areas.
"We discussed these with provincial authorities and we ended up with eight areas for both wind and solar PV, totalling about 80,000km². At this point we now have specialists doing scoping studies on those eight areas."
These REDZ are not exclusive zones — other land usages could be integrated with the renewables projects.
Final decisions will now be made on the focus areas, identifying boundaries for the REDZ and preparing protocols so that environmental permits can be obtained. Once these areas are defined and the various departments agree, they will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
This process requires the amendments to the environmental regulations allowing for pre-assessments to which the CSIR’s study on transmission corridors has referred.
"What it means for developers in these areas is that they still have to go through certain processes, including public consultation, but it will be quicker to secure environmental consents," Ms Cape-Ducluzeau says.
"We have a steering committee on which a number of government departments are represented, and an expert reference group including NGOs and industry associations. Their participation has been very helpful."