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Eskom in renewables drive as load-shedding bites

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Embattled power utility Eskom is planning to bring more renewable energy on to the national grid as it struggles to keep the lights on.

This emerged yesterday when the state-owned company shared its Transmission Development Plan (TDP) for the period 2022 to 2031 with various stakeholders during a virtual public forum.

This is part of Eskom’s transmission licence requirements issued by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, which calls for Eskom to publish a TDP annually.

The forum forms part of a consultative process where industry, various business sectors, local government and other infrastructure development partners get to influence the long-term development plan of the transmission system.

According to Eskom, during this planning period, 30GW of new generation capacity is expected, mainly from renewable energy sources (photovoltaic and wind) in areas with limited network infrastructure.

To provide for an adequate and reliable transmission system, Eskom plans to increase the transmission infrastructure by approximately 8 400km of extra-high-voltage lines and 119 transformers to bring on board 58 970MVA of transformer capacity over the next 10 years.

The move to renewables comes as Eskom has once again plunged the country into darkness after imposing load-shedding this week.

Amid the crisis at Eskom, in June, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the decision to amend the Electricity Regulation Act to lift the threshold for companies to produce their own electricity without a licence to 100 megawatts.

Companies have embraced the move, as they want to wean themselves from the troubled state-owned company.

One such organisation is South African Breweries, whose parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev is on track to connect its seven breweries in SA to 8.7MW DC of distributed solar energy it procured through power purchase agreements with local photovoltaic systems operator SOLA Group.

Mining company Exxaro is also developing a 70MW solar project, which will supply renewable energy to its coal operations at the Grootegeluk complex in Limpopo.

In a statement yesterday, Eskom group executive for transmission Segomoco Scheppers said: “The total Eskom transmission capital plan amounts to R178 billion over the next 10 years. Of this amount, R144 billion is required for new capacity expansion projects to meet the reliability requirements, connection of new generation capacity and loads, as well as to acquire servitudes.

“A further R34 billion is required for refurbishments to the existing asset base and procurement of production equipment, as well as strategic spares.”

Scheppers noted that as a state-owned entity, Eskom understands the critical role it plays in enabling SA’s economic recovery efforts because without reliable electricity, there can be no sustainable economic recovery or growth.

As such, he pointed out the organisation continues to prioritise investments in the transmission grid.

“Work is in progress to allow the connection of utility-scale renewable generation projects for Bid Window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, projects which are expected to be connected to the national electricity grid by 2024/25,” he said.

“We are also making our systems ready to connect the additional 2 000MW capacity procured through the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme and this capacity is expected to be available during the course of next year,” explained Scheppers.

Eskom adds that major expansion of the transmission network is critical for the connection of utility-scale renewable generation projects, mainly wind and solar, in line with the policy direction highlighted in the Integrated Resource Plan of 2019 and the Grid Code to diversify South Africa’s energy mix, and provide non-discriminatory access to the grid.

Today, the power utility announced that due to further shortage of generation capacity, “Eskom regrets to announce that stage four load-shedding will be implemented from 12:00 today until 05:00 on Friday. Thereafter, stage two load-shedding will be implemented until 05:00 on Saturday.”

According to Eskom, over the past 24 hours, a unit each at Medupi, Kusile and Matla power stations tripped, while a unit each at Lethabo and Arnot power stations were forced to shut down. This constrained the power system further, requiring extensive use of emergency reserves, and therefore, hampering the recovery of these reserves.

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