December 15, 2017

Gas-to-power: South Africa to benefit from advanced natural gas technologies

Webb Meko, Business Development Director, Sub-Saharan Africa, Black & Veatch, discusses key priorities as the country prepares for gas’s role in South Africa’s IRP finalisation.

South Africa is focused on boosting the economy, creating jobs and being a good steward of the environment. By efficiently developing strategic natural gas infrastructure projects, the country can harness their abundant natural resources to help achieve these objectives.

According to Webb Meko, Business Development Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Black & Veatch, South Africa’s energy sector will play a key role in advancing economic development.  Broader access to electricity can boost industrial activity and support previously underserved regions. There are also opportunities to profit from increased exports of resources such as natural gas and electricity to other regions where energy deficits persist.

The South African Government’s Inclusive Growth Action Plan identifies the energy sector as a key focus area. Taking the lead from the National Development Plan’s (NDP) Vision 2030, this plan identifies the finalisation of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) expected to take place in early 2018.

“Finalisation of the IRP, particularly as it pertains to gas-to-power plant development activity, has the potential to boost the local economy and stimulate trade amongst key industries,” says Meko. “Successful deployment of such projects will require training and skills development to properly build and maintain these facilities and achieve the country’s long-term energy goals.”

“Liquefied natural gas, or LNG facilities – and the capability to build new infrastructure to support exports – are new territory for South Africa and the local workforce. Global gas supplies have increased over prior years, and demand continues to grow worldwide. Integrated gas-to-power projects must be developed under the guidance of knowledgeable consulting, engineering, procurement and construction experts for schedule, budget, performance, quality, and safety,” explains Meko.

“Some lessons can be borrowed from other large infrastructure projects, but gas-to-power plants call for different technical skill-sets, including configuration and associated technologies. In addition, knowledge about LNG technology, cryogenic systems, vaporization, utility integration, control systems and safety are essential for efficient and economical project design and execution.”

He adds that this specialised expertise will be beneficial for the country for the future, especially with the likelihood of gas becoming more integrated into Africa‘s future energy portfolio. Gas-to-power projects require the collaboration of many stakeholders – including regulators and local officials, developers, investors, and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) providers.

Meko draws a parallel in the company’s current project work on what will be the largest natural gas power station in South America. With many South American nations facing similar demand for reliable baseload power, the 1,516 MW combined cycle power Porto de Sergipe project in northeastern Brazil will help meet mounting energy needs. The project will include construction of a new floating natural gas storage and regasification facility. The complexity of the project necessitates coordination with contractors, technology providers and development partners eBRASIL and Golar Power.

Meko is optimistic regarding South Africa’s IRP, and believes taking a holistic perspective on infrastructure requirements, as well as engaging trusted providers early on, will drive long-term success for future projects. In developing regions, these projects can also create new job opportunities and support capacity building for the local workforce.

“The time is now to start planning for future infrastructure requirements, particularly for complex integrated gas-to-power projects that will support South Africa’s economic growth,” adds Meko. “Partnering with seasoned project experts can mitigate development and execution risks and lead to maximum return on investments.”

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