No overnight fix for load shedding – as angry South Africans vent their frustration

 ·21 Sep 2022

Increasing load shedding implemented by power utility Eskom in recent days highlights the pressing need for the urgent implementation of the energy action plan outlined by the government in July, according to consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Zutari.

While South Africa’s current energy crisis has resulted in years of load shedding, many of the challenges behind this are not unique to South Africa, it said.

“Globally, we see different parts of the world facing an energy crunch that might look different but is based on some of the same fundamental issues,” said Zutari managing director, Janice Foster.

The action plan announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa sent a strong and positive message to the market, industry and private investors looking to invest in renewable energy.

“What was great about the President’s speech was that he has opened the energy challenge to a shared solution with opportunities for everyone to have an impact, no matter how small,” said Foster.

President Ramaphosa’s acknowledgement that the country faced an electricity shortage of 6,000 MW “is important because a problem cannot be fixed until it is identified,” the MD added.

While the large-scale renewable projects mooted are long-term interventions, Foster said she is “optimistically confident” that the action plan “sets us up to make the right decisions and move us in the right direction. However, for these to start having an impact, they need to be implemented with the utmost urgency.”

A highlight of the plan is doubling the new generation capacity for wind and solar power for Bid Window 6 of the Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) from 2,600 MW to 5,200 MW, the submission date of which has been extended to 3 October to allow for the registration of additional bidders.

Another significant step is removing the threshold for embedded generation capacity entirely, noted Zutari.

Raising the threshold to 100 MW last year has already unlocked a pipeline of more than 80 confirmed private sector projects, which are now starting to reach financial close. With a combined capacity of over 6,000 MW “this is a significant increase in capacity for private off-takers,” said Foster.

Preferred projects in Bid Window 5 are facing a number of obstacles to achieving financial close. “Therefore, a way to resolve the hurdles so that they can move forward into construction needs to be found,” added Foster.

Another important move by the government is the announcement of an Eskom feed-in tariff for small-scale embedded generation.

“That is a real signal of incentive to Eskom’s commercial users and private residential customers that they can also contribute and support their own needs at the same time,” said Foster. While municipalities like Cape Town are already forging ahead in this regard, it applies to utility customers at present.

It is also positive that the government is reaching out to the private sector to assist with expertise and skills.

“Yes, while there are consulting firms like us that can provide that support, there are also possibly a number of individuals who have left the industry entirely for whatever reason who can be attracted back and add value.

“I think it has definitely sent a message acknowledging the need for everyone to contribute in whatever way they can. It is a shared problem, so we can make it a shared solution,” said Foster.

The planned battery energy storage to supplement Eskom’s capacity represents a multifaceted approach to the energy crisis. “This opens up the energy storage market to private investment. The addition of Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) will support the grid by catering for peak shaving, providing network stability,” said the business lead.

These systems will enable greater penetration of renewables into the future.

However, a ‘just’ energy transition is probably the most important consideration from a local perspective. “The bulk of our power supply is still coal-based. As we transition away from fossil fuels, we need to ensure there are opportunities for the participation of all stakeholders, especially the thousands employed in the coal-mining industry. Our energy crisis is a relatively solvable problem from a technical standpoint, but the number of social and institutional challenges it brings are equally, if not more, important,” said Foster.

“It is a global imperative for the world to reduce its reliance on carbon-intensive energy solutions. This is a problem likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. It is both an energy security challenge as well as the need to reduce the carbon footprint of our energy supply,” she said.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, reports that social media postings about Eskom surged to a record this week, with Twitter sentiment overwhelmingly negative.

As of Wednesday, South Africans had endured 107 days in 2022 of load shedding – the worst year yet – with more pain to come, it said.

“Essential services that have been disrupted include mobile and internet connectivity, and provision of water and sanitation. The outages are causing traffic snarl-ups and halting business, leading to public criticism of the government.”

The chart displays how many tweets about Eskom have been published in 30-minute intervals by accounts monitored by Bloomberg. The lower part shows whether the tweets were positive or negative.

Read: Eskom has another big problem

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