Investigating the direct environmental impacts of emerging solar power and shale gas developments in two arid biomes of South Africa

Rudman, Justine (2017-03)

Thesis (MScConsEcol)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: South Africa’s energy system diversification involves the inclusion of a variety of energy resources as alternatives to coal. Amongst these energy technologies supported by various policy documents, alternatives include concentrating solar power (CSP), photovoltaic power (PV) and shale gas. Solar power developments are predominantly located across the north-western interior of the country, coinciding with the distribution of the Nama-Karoo and Savanna biomes. The environmental impacts of individual solar power projects are currently being assessed by Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). The area for which shale gas exploration rights applications have been received slightly overlaps with the area for which solar power projects are being deployed. No shale gas exploration activities have as yet commenced, and the size of its resource in the Karoo Basin is still undetermined. Should the resource size be economically viable, shale gas development activities are expected to start and will require EIAs. Due to the relative novelty of these energy developments (i.e., solar power and shale gas) in South Africa, local peer reviewed literature based on experience-based impact data is largely absent. The objective of this thesis is to determine and investigate the direct environmental impacts resulting from these alternative energy developments across the landscapes of the Nama-Karoo and Savanna biomes. A mixed-method approach was followed. Structured interviews were conducted with selected expert groups and included questions on direct environmental impact from developments, the EIA process and management of impacts. The results from the interview process were coded, grouped into themes and then thematically analysed. With slight differences for the two solar technologies, interview findings indicated that habitat transformation, the impact on avifauna and cumulative impacts are major concerns related to solar power development. These findings were supported by site visits, which provided an on-the-ground perspective of the impact experience from solar power plants. Shale gas interview findings indicated that all aspects of water related impacts are of very high concern. The widespread nature of shale gas developments are expected to cause distributed and repeated impacts to the landscape, especially during the production stage of development. The cumulative nature of these impacts and the uncertainty regarding baseline conditions in the Nama-Karoo were highlighted as key concerns. Simple spatial analysis was used to assess the footprints of solar power and shale gas development relative to other land uses in the study area. It was found that the current and expected footprint of future solar power development is relatively low. The exact locations for potential shale gas activities are still unknown, but given the distributed nature thereof, a notable proportion of the Nama-Karoo surface area is expected to be transformed if or when activities commence. The management of- and strategic planning for environmental impacts of energy developments in the arid biomes of South Africa have been highlighted as critical and in need of effective coordination. This thesis provides an initial identification of the direct environmental impacts of energy developments in two arid biomes of South Africa, and a number of recommendations are made for future work.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die diversifisering van Suid-Afrika se energiesisteem behels die insluiting van ʼn verskeidenheid energie hulpbronne as alternatiewe tot steenkool. Van hierdie energietegnologieë wat ondersteun word deur verskeie beleidsdokumente, word gekonsentreerede sonkrag (GSK), fotovoltaïese krag (FK) en skalie gas as alternatiewe ingesluit. Sonkragontwikkelinge is meestal geleë oor die noord-westelike binneland van die land, wat ook ooreenstem met die verspreiding van die Nama-Karoo en Savanna biome. Die omgewingsimpakte van individuele sonkragprojekte word tans geassesseer deur middel van Omgewingsimpakstudies (OISs). Die area waarvoor skaliegaseksplorasiereg-aansoeke ontvang is, oorkruis gedeeldelik met die areas waar sonkragprojekte ontplooi word. Geen skaliegaseksplorasie-aktiwiteite het al begin nie, en die grootte van die hulpbron in die Karoo Kom is steeds onbepaald. Skaliegasontwikkelingsaktiwiteite word verwag om te begin en sal ook OISs benodig sodra die hulpbrongrootte ekonomies vatbaar bevind word. As gevolg van die relatiewe nuutheid van hierdie energieontwikkelinge (m.a.w. sonkrag en skaliegas) in Suid-Afrika, is literatuur wat gebaseer is op ondervinding-verwante impakte merendeels afwesig. Die doel van hierdie tesis is om die direkte omgewingsimpakte verwant aan bogenoemde alternatiewe energieontwikkelinge in die Nama-Karoo en Savanna biome te bepaal en ondersoek. ʼn Gemengde- metode benadering was gevolg. Gestruktureerde onderhoude was gevoer met geselekteerde kennergroepe en het vrae ingesluit aangaande die direkte omgewingsimpakte van ontwikkelinge, die OIS proses en die bestuur van impakte. Die resultate van die onderhoudsproses was gekodeer en daarna tematies geanaliseer nadat die bevindinge in temas gegroepeer was. Met effense verskille tussen die twee sonkragtegnologieë het die onderhoudsresultate aangedui dat habitat transformasie, die impak op avifauna en kumulatiewe impakte die beduidendste bekommernisse is m.b.t. sonkragontwikkeling. Hierdie bevindinge was ondersteun deur besoeke af te lewer aan ses sonkragstasies wat praktiese insig gelewer het rakende die impak-ondervinding van sonkragstasies in Suid-Afrika tot op hede. Die onderhoudsbevindinge vir skalie gas het aangedui dat alle aspekte van water-verwante impakte besondere kommer inhou. Die wydverspreide aard van skaliegasontwikkelinge word verwag om verspreide en herhaalde impakte in die landskap te veroorsaak, veral gedurende die produksiestadium van ontwikkeling. Die kumulatiewe aard van hierdie impakte en die onsekerheid rakende die pre-ontwikkeling toestand in die Nama-Karoo was ook uitgewys as ʼn rede vir kommer. Basiese ruimtelike analise was gebruik om die ontwikkelingsareas van sonkrag en skaliegas relatief tot ander grondgebruike in die studie area te assesseer. Dit was bevind dat die huidige en verwagte ontwikkelingsarea van sonkrag relatief laag is. Die presiese ligging van skaliegasaktiwiteite is steeds onbekend, maar gegewe die wydverspreide aard daarvan word dit verwag dat ʼn noemenswaardige gedeelte van die Nama-Karoo oppervlakarea getransformeer sal word indien of wanneer skaliegasontwikkeling begin. Die bestuur van- en strategiese beplanning van omgewingsimpakte van energie ontwikkelinge in die dorre biome van Suid-Afrika was verder uitgewys as baie belangrik en benodig effektiewe koördinasie. Hierdie tesis verskaf ʼn aanvanklike identifisering van die direkte omgewingsimpakte verwant aan energieontwikkelinge in twee dorre biome van Suid-Afrika en ʼn paar aanbevelings word gemaak vir toekomstige navorsing.

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