Aurecon's Environment and Planning team ensures the smart and efficient delivery of Africa's renewable energy projects in the most suitable locations.


Ensuring the successful delivery of Africa’s complex renewable energy projects

According to IPCC’s 2018 report, human activities have caused temperatures to reach approximately 1.0ºC above pre-industrial levels. If this continues, global warming will likely reach 1.5ºC between 2030 and 2052, which would bring long-term changes to the climate system as global sea levels continue to rise at a much faster rate.

The transition to renewable energy is now more urgent than ever before, with Africa being one of the high-risk regions. Although Africa has considerable renewable energy resources to be harnessed, projects can take up to ten years to be implemented, and developers often run out of financing before securing long-term investment. Therefore, it is essential that renewable energy projects are delivered efficiently, in the most suitable locations, with the most sustainable designs.

The complexities of renewable energy projects

The complexities of renewable energy projects can be summarised as follows:

  • Projects are often clustered in obvious ‘hot spots’ due to the availability of the most favourable resources that would ensure maximum project return on investment. Clustering often leads to limited land availability with associated physical or environmental constraints; and cumulative impacts could be an issue if there are past, current, and future projects in various stages of planning or development.
  • Developers often maximise their options or seek improved viability through undertaking multiple projects alongside one another. This includes transmission line projects to make up for lacking grid network capacity, as the grid networks were typically not planned around availability of renewable energy resources. Such permitting processes then need to be managed in parallel as they are effectively interdependent.
  • Multiple authorities, each with their own legal processes, have jurisdiction over developments – authorisations, permits, licences and approvals are required from sectors such as planning, water resources, heritage, aviation etc. Streamlining these processes is essential to reduce approval times, save cost and de-risk investment.
  • Stakeholder fatigue occurs where stakeholders lose interest and fail to provide valuable input due to involvement in multiple prior processes; on the other hand well-organised interest groups can bring a project down, or add to approval time.
  • Many projects rely on funding from international investors and associated standards apply that are usually over and above local requirements.

How to manage social and environmental risks

Project planning should consider these uncertainties and associated risks. Aurecon has developed environmental and social capabilities to help clients proactively manage these risks starting at the project pre-feasibility stage right through to project operation. Moreover, our Environment and Planning team is positioned well to assist throughout the project life cycle.

A proper screening process underpins most successful projects. Project screening optimisation can be achieved through site or technology selection using multicriteria analysis tools, saving both time and cost, and de-risking investments as unfeasible alternatives are excluded early on.

Aurecon’s differentiated and innovative approach lies in our deep experience in multicriteria analysis tools on a variety of projects, including renewable energy projects. We provide assurance that the best possible alternatives are taken forward in the process. Once this optimised design solution has been established with multi-disciplinary input, the formal legal process, usually a Scoping and EIA (or ESIA) process, also runs more smoothly, as risks have been considered and addressed.

Our methodology addresses one of the key weaknesses of conventional alternatives assessment, being the structured and defendable rating or scoring of alternatives to determine a preference ranking. It provides a mathematically based, transparent and logical system in a reproducible methodology, and ensures that the project team can demonstrate the basis of their recommendation or decision. Applied in an interactive workshop environment and ensuring the appropriate participation of decision makers, engineers, environmental practitioners and stakeholders, it ensures that project outcomes are widely acceptable and supported.

At Aurecon, we view uncertainties as opportunities to create sustainable solutions that will equip our stakeholders with the resources they need even if challenges arise in the future. Our international track record in renewable energy projects, along with our team’s collective expertise in the field, are testaments to our capacity to make these large-scale sustainable undertakings a reality. 

About the Authors

Andries van der Merwe is an Environmental Engineer and leader within Aurecon's Environment & Planning Advisory team in South Africa.

Kirsten Jones is an Environmental Scientist specialising in environmental impact assessments, social impact assessments, public participation and sustainability-related projects.

Originally published as LinkedIn Pulse “Solving renewable energy project complexities” by Andries van der Merwe and Kirsten Jones

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