Renewables sector’s tough call to govt over Eskom

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 10 Dec 2019
Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of South African Wind Energy Association.
Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of South African Wind Energy Association.

As the country plunged into unprecedented stage 6 power cuts for the first time on Monday, the renewables energy sector is calling for swift and prompt action from government, saying they can add up to 2 500MW to the energy mix in a year.

The country was thrown into panic yesterday when power utility Eskom announced stage 6 of power cuts. It is hardly a relief that it was reversed to stage 4 at 10pm last night.

This is the second time this year that Africa’s most advanced economy experienced the most severe power cuts in more than a decade. In March, the situation also took a turn for the worst after Eskom lost its imports from Cahora Bassa hydroelectric system in Mozambique, which contributes 1 000MW to the South African grid, after a powerful cyclone, Idai.

Now, the situation has become so unbearable that the renewables energy sector says it is not acceptable and government must act without delay.

The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) is calling for immediate release of available wind power into the national grid.

It says it views load shedding as “a clear symptom of Eskom fleet’s reduced electricity availability factor, which indicates an urgent need to procure new generation capacity in order to bring the available factor to healthy levels again.”

Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of SAWEA says: “The operational wind energy plants have excess capacity of about 500MW available immediately. These can also be short term contracts that can be signed in this interim capacity constraint period and it doesn’t have to be viewed as long term commitments.”

The industry body is proposing the lifting of maximum export capacity, which governs how much energy is permitted to be exported by wind farm power generators on all operating wind farms.

The organisation is arguing that currently wind farms can only export the pre-agreed maximum capacity into the grid and are being forced to curtail any additional capacity.

“If the restrictions were lifted, government could buy that additional energy at a tariff it was prepared to pay. In any case, this is surplus energy that can be bought at marginal cost, as low as R0.40c per KWh,” SAWEA said in a statement.

In addition to permitting additional wind power into the grid, SAWEA is suggesting that the government allow the industry to fast-track wind farms that are currently under construction, “meaning that they can provide power that is being produced to Eskom, before their agreed commercial operations date.”

“This ‘early generation‘ electricity can be sold to Eskom at a rate approximately 40% cheaper than the agreed tariff, ensuring that the much-needed electricity is fed into the grid much earlier than anticipated and achieve short term savings for government/Eskom,” reads the statement.

2 000MW photovoltaic power available

Supporting the SAWEA swift action stance, South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) says the latest round of load shedding has “provided further evidence of the power utility’s increasing inability to supply the level of electricity required by South Africa’s households and industries.”

In a strongly worded statement, SAPVIA says: “We therefore urge the Department of Minerals Resources and Energy to swiftly implement any of the legislative or regulatory changes that would be required to allow generators of less than 10MW to generate without undergoing the arduous NERSA licencing process.”

The organisation says it believes that private sector, due to its extensive financial capacity and its ability to expeditiously identify and provide for its own power requirements, is well placed to alleviate the current generation capacity challenges.

“This much is recognised in the recently released Intergrated Resources Plan 2019 (IRP 2019), where small-scale embedded generation has been identified as the means of bridging the current electricity supply gap. Photovoltaic generation, which can be quickly deployed, is anticipated to be the key technology behind small scale embedded generation,” it says.

Additionally, SAPVIA believes that “up to 2 000MW of this small scale capacity can be added to the energy over the next twelve months.”

In the IRP 2019 released in October, the government’s energy layout was approved by the Cabinet. It consists of additional capacity of 1 500MW coal, 2 500MW hydro, 6 000MW photovoltaic, 14 400MW wind, 2 088MW storage and 3 000MW gas.

With the adopted IRP 2019, government says there is recognition that some of the technology options the country has to take require some level of long-range decisions.

“We try to harmonise this dichotomy, especially with regard to nuclear, gas and energy storage technologies, and which technologies require more consideration of future developments,” says government.

It notes the South African power system consists of the following generation options: 38GW installed capacity from coal, 1.8GW from nuclear, 2.7GW from pumped storage, 1.7GW from hydro, 3.8GW from diesel and 3.7GW from renewable energy.