South African households are beating Eskom at its own game with rooftop solar

 ·27 Jul 2023

Data from Eskom and Professor Anton Eberhard shows that South African households and businesses have installed and estimated 4,400MW of rooftop solar PV – double the solar capacity procured under Eskom’s four bid windows.

According to Eberhard’s data from Eskom, the country’s installed solar rooftop PV increased from 983 MW in March 2022 to 4,412 MW in June 2023 – marking a 349% increase in just over a year.

Eskom’s transmission division is believed to be responsible for this data on private solar installations, as it is determined by analysing the variance between predicted and actual energy demand in the country.

This means the shortfall in actual demand relative the what is predicated by Eskom is assumed to be a result of alternative energy sources (solar rooftop PV).

This 349% increase in solar rooftop PV to 4,400MW is double the estimated 2,200MW installed under the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (Reipppp) – meaning South Africans are beating the government at its own game.

However, there are reasons why this is the case, and the main one is that Eskom has very limited grid capacity, which has hamstrung the power utility’s efforts to add new generation capacity.

To alleviate that pressure, Eskom introduced its so-called Interim Grid Capacity Allocation Rules. Still, many private power developers have criticised this move, arguing that it would increase the money developers must spend before they know whether they have access to the grid – which could scare off future investments.

Despite these issues, it seems South Africans aren’t waiting for Eskom to fix its problems. Eberhard’s data is evidence of this, as businesses and households have been forced to invest in alternative energy solutions to keep the lights on amid rampant and high levels of load shedding.

Eberhard said this mass uptake in solar PV to escape load shedding has significantly reduced the residual load Eskom needs to meet during the day – meaning less load-shedding and more available energy for Eskom to restore its pumped hydro and diesel storage.

According to Daily Investor, in April, senior economist at Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies Gaylor Montmasson-Clair said South Africa imported a record R12 billion of lithium batteries in 2022.

He added that the data showed the number is even higher in 2023, which shows the demand for electricity backup continues to grow.

In the first quarter of 2023, South Africa imported five times as many batteries as it did in the whole of 2022.

Imports of solar panels also reached an all-time high of R3.6 billion in South Africa during the first three months of 2023, said Daily Investor.

Research from RMB Morgan Stanley also showed that electricity generated from the private sector will exceed the output from Eskom’s generation fleet by 2025.

According to RMB’s estimation, Eskom will produce approximately 25,200MW of electricity in 2025, slightly more than 47% of its maximum capacity, while alternative energy sources will produce 26,600MW.

However, this does not mean that load-shedding will end, as RMB noted that the supply deficit will be significantly reduced but will remain around 400MW in 2025.

By 2030, even with alternative energy sources producing above 36,000MW, a shortfall of over 1,000MW will remain, and this will be due to the further deterioration of Eskom’s generating fleet.

Read: Eskom price hikes tear through South African households

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