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SA sees increased renewable energy use

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Coal continues to dominate the South African power supply, contributing 81.8% to the total energy mix in first half of 2021, while contribution from renewable energy sources totalled almost 11% (solar PV, wind, hydro, concentrating solar power, others) and zero-carbon energy sources contributed 14.3% (renewables and nuclear).

This is according to research conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) published in its “Statistics of utility-scale power generation in South Africa 2021” report, focusing on the first half of 2021.

The report is based on data originally published by Eskom, which includes insights provided on technology-specific daily, weekly and monthly electricity production, as well as flexibility needs of the national power system.

The report notes SA has been gradually adding utility-scale wind, solar PV and CSP for years, increasing the installed capacity from 467MW in 2013 to 5 324MW by the end of June 2021. This includes 2 613 of wind, 2 211 of solar PV and 500MW of concentrating solar power added during the first half of the year alone.

According to the report, SA was plunged into 650 hours of load-shedding in 1H-2021 (15% of the time) wherein 963GWh of estimated energy was shed (mostly stage two load-shedding), as an additional coal unit at Kusile power station entered into commercial operation.

This is 76% of the total load-shedding experienced during 2020.

Last year, renewable energy contributed 10% to the total national energy over the 12-month period.

“By the first quarter of 2021, SA had 52.6GW of wholesale/public nominal capacity. The electricity mix is dominated by coal-fired power generation, which contributed 83.5% to system demand in the period,” says the report.

“In 1H-2021, the variable renewable energy fleet of 5.3GW (wind, solar PV, CSP) reduced peak demand slightly, but more importantly, reduced high demand hours by 65%. Flexibility needs were not yet significantly increased with the existing variable renewable energy fleet in 1H-2021.”

For years, industry pundits have been touting renewable as the answer to SA’s ongoing energy crisis.

While SA has a heavy reliance on coal resources, governments across the globe have been introducing new frameworks to help combat climate change by enforcing the reduction of the amount of fossil fuels emitted by firms.

In an effort to resolve SA’s energy supply shortfall and reduce the risk of load-shedding, president Cyril Ramaphosa last month announced government will increase the National Energy Regulator of South Africa licensing threshold for embedded generation projects from 1MW to 100MW. This would allow companies to produce their own electricity without a licence.

The move was hailed by the renewable energy sector as it also opens up opportunities for intensive energy users like mines to generate their own electricity; the previous licensing requirements were limiting and cumbersome for end-users.

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