by Roger Lilley, Now Media
It is reported that the head of the IPP Office has confirmed that procurement of additional solar-sourced electricity will commence shortly. While this is good news to all those involved in the solar industry, one wonders what is meant by “shortly”.
The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) has welcomed this week’s government update on plans to expedite the implementation of the Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP2019). The solar industry has a policy target to generate 6000 MW of energy by 2030 and will contribute to the procurement of 2000 MW of distributed energy by 2024.
However, despite the release of the long-awaited update to the IRP in October 2019, and Eskom’s ongoing difficulties in meeting the country’s electricity demand, government is still talking about its intentions rather than aggressively opening the market up to independent power producers. Instead, the minister of mineral affairs and energy has been busying himself with grandiose ideas of procuring 2500 MW of nuclear-derived electricity.
Although the country suffered load-shedding late last year and early this, it was largely spared during the first two months of “lockdown” because of the steep decrease in demand from the industrial and manufacturing sectors. The weather was also still warm which meant that few electric heaters were in use.
But, over the last week, the country experienced a cold front which drove temperatures down dramatically. It took less than a week from the arrival of that cold front for Eskom to announce the imminent return of load-shedding, even though industry is not yet up to full speed. The power utility blames its inability to meet demand – and therefore having to reintroduce load-shedding – on breakdowns at many of its ageing and ever-increasingly unreliable coal-fired power stations.
Speaking to Energize yesterday, Niveshen Govender, SAPVIA’s chief operations officer, said that Eskom’s greatest problem – in his opinion – is its inability to improve its system planning. The utility, he says, doesn’t seem to be able to predict or meet the demand curve. The result is reduction of load, or as we have come to know it, load-shedding.
We all know that Eskom’s difficulties are not all of its own making. Political interference, resistance to restructuring, the consequences of looting through “state capture”, and the ballooning debt owed to the power utility by many municipalities, have virtually hamstrung the organisation.
But it is for this very reason, then, that the private sector should be given a far freer hand in providing the power the country needs to regain some growth in the economy and create jobs. If Eskom cannot meet demand, then the shortfall should be met by private, independent power producers, using low-cost and quick-to-build generating technologies.
Govender says that the IRP’s biggest opportunity is in low cost electricity which would create additional operational and construction jobs. A growing local market will provide the impetus needed for domestic manufacturing of renewable components.
While there is merit in encouraging the populace to “live lightly” and use electricity sparingly, and the introduction and rollout of energy efficient equipment accelerates, Eskom’s board, supported by the appropriate government officials, must restructure the utility to fit with the new reality. As Govender puts it, “Eskom’s business model must change”.
Embedded solar energy can also contribute to ensuring energy security in the short and medium term which is now even more critical as the country goes into winter and load-shedding returns. Hybrid systems, which use a combination of technologies, offer a low-cost, reliable and dependable source of electricity.
While some still question the value of renewable energy, the fact that this technology is growing globally and is, in the main, privately built and operated, on time and within budget, shows that the quicker South Africa moves to roll out more renewable energy-powered electricity generation, the better for everyone in the country. As the country works towards its goal of universal access to electricity, and electric vehicles replace petrol- and diesel-powered ones, electricity demand will increase.
If Eskom cannot meet demand now, one wonders how it hopes to in the future.
“The implementation of the IRP is a valuable tool to kick-start our economic response to the corona virus pandemic and can go a long way to giving our country the stability and certainty of a reliable power source. Our economy and our future simply cannot afford the uncertainty that comes with the spectre of possibly again going through load-shedding,” says Govender