The biggest risk of grid collapse in South Africa

 ·8 Nov 2023

Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said this week that bottlenecks on Eskom’s transmission grid are the biggest risk to South Africa’s energy future, and they need to be addressed urgently.

Briefing the media on the state of the grid on Sunday (5 November), the minister said that if there is any risk of even remotely approaching grid collapse in the country, it would be because of the transmission side – not generation.

While Eskom’s generation failings are well known – and still experienced daily thanks to load shedding being a prominent and near-permanent fixture in everyone’s life – the power utility’s transmission woes are the next big problem looming over our heads.

Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this week, the minister noted that over 1,000 projects related to transmission need to be developed and executed over the next ten years if the country has any hope of meeting electricity demand.

According to regulatory requirements, Eskom Transmission publishes a Transmission Development Plan (TDP) every year, looking ten years ahead. It identifies the infrastructure required to keep abreast of load growth, comply with reliability/redundancy requirements, meet new generation integration requirements, and replace assets that are at end of life.

“In the TDP2022, Eskom identified 1,009 projects requiring development and execution. This comprises 207 expansion category projects and 802 refurbishment projects over this period,” the minister said.

The identified scope in TDP2022 broadly involves building 14,218 km of powerlines and 122,669 MVA of transformation.

According to Ramokgopa, this infrastructure will be built in all provinces around the country, with the bulk being in provinces such as the Northern Cape, that have the greatest potential for renewable energy power plants.

However, financing is a huge stumbling block.

While estimates point to Eskom needing over R200 billion to meet transmission development requirements, the minister said that it is only a part of the estimated R390 billion that will be required over the next decade to meet the demand for grid capacity.

“This is largely due to the increase in generation capacity through renewable energy projects following the various Bid Windows,” he said.

Eskom’s current financial position places significant limitations on its ability to attract sufficient capital towards expanding the transmission grid, however. In addition to this, the delivery of transmission infrastructure takes on average between seven to ten years, he said.

“It is estimated this delivery rate needs to be scaled up by eight times to connect the energy generation required for energy security by 2030.

“It is anticipated that the transmission grid build rate needs to increase from 300km to 2300km per year with a greater rate of investment and delivery required through to 2050.”

Ramokgopa said that while the main focus right now is on improving the generation side and bringing an end to load shedding, the transmission side represents a single point of failure that needs to urgently be addressed.

“(The electricity ministry) is currently finalising a cabinet submission on transmission financing pathways aimed at fast-tracking transmission infrastructure investments to support the anticipated growth in generation capacity and secure long-term energy security,” he said.

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