I want to be free

Letlhogonolo Tsoai

Earlier this year, press reports announced that the city of Cape Town (CoCT) intended to set up its own power grid and “break free” from Eskom. While the headlines greatly simplify the complexity of the city’s goals, the suggestion that a city could move away from Eskom, and potentially say goodbye to the load shedding, is particularly appealing.

Over the past 20 years, the global energy landscape has changed a lot, and this has been made worse by our local situation, says Phindile Maxiti, member of the Mayor’s Committee for Energy and Climate Change at CoCT. “Global environmental concerns, sparked by a better understanding of the harmful effects of carbon emissions that lead to climate change, together with the systemic corruption, embezzlement, fraud and state capture alleged at Eskom have precipitated a crisis. energy of national importance, causing the need for urgent reform.

Maxiti adds that it is crucial for the private sector to play a role in meeting the country’s future electricity needs. Not only will this reduce the financial burden on the government, but it will also ease Eskom’s borrowing needs and introduce production technologies that Eskom might not consider to be part of its core function. All of this should play a critical role in our future electricity supply options, especially off-grid, distributed generation, cogeneration and small-scale renewable energy projects.

This approach will also give Eskom the space to solve the ongoing challenges it faces and become a more stable and sustainable energy supplier, said Maxiti. “It is important to note that Eskom will always have a big role to play, but just reliance on Eskom to provide coal-based electricity is not sustainable and it does not work for South Africa. We need urgent change and a regulatory environment that allows for energy diversification. ”

So, is it possible? And if yes, how ?

“Anything can be done if enough money is spent on the problem,” says Johan Strydom, senior energy analyst at GreenCape. However, the amount of money required to leave Eskom’s network makes the move totally unworkable from a financial point of view. But that doesn’t mean that a level of independence wouldn’t be beneficial, he admits, noting that it would ensure the City has mechanisms in place to minimize the impact of the load shedding.

“I must stress that the CoCT does not declare its independence vis-à-vis Eskom. But he intends to reduce his dependence on Eskom, ”says Chris Yelland, MD at EE Business Intelligence. He says there are three ways the City can do this, all of which aim to reduce the amount of electricity the City has to buy from Eskom.

First, the City can allow customers within the city’s municipal boundaries to generate their own electricity for their own use; this applies to personal, commercial and light industrial use. To incentivize this, Cape Town has introduced a “top-up” tariff, which will compensate customers for any electricity they feed back into the grid for use by others. So if you install solar panels on the roof of your house and generate more electricity than you consume, you can sell that extra electricity back to Eskom.

‘Wheeling’ presents another alternative, Yelland continues. In this case, an independent power producer (IPP) generates electricity and the electricity is then routed through the Eskom grid to a “buyer”, with a fee paid to Eskom for the use of its grid. . In action, the wheeling could see a wind farm in the Western Cape enter into a contractual deal to sell power to a manufacturing plant in KwaZulu-Natal, providing electricity using Eskom’s transmission grid.

According to Letlhogonolo Tsoai, technical program manager at the South African Wind Energy Association, something like wheeling is facilitated by the recent lifting of the license cap from 1 MW to 100 MW. Tsoai believes that this new legislation opens up opportunities for Cape Town to diversify its electricity supply.

Supportive policy and regulatory structures that provide guidance on how purchasing power between PPIs and municipalities will work are needed, Tsoai notes. Instead of a two-way agreement between municipalities and Eskom, municipalities will be able to enter into power purchase agreements with IPPs to purchase electricity directly from them.

The third approach, according to Yelland, would see municipalities either build their own power plants – gas or renewable energy – or work with an independent producer who would build, own and operate their own power plant and provide electricity to the community. municipality in the same way. that Eskom does.

The city’s current demand is in the order of 2,400 MW, Strydom says. In the medium term, it should aim to receive at least 10% (240 MW) of demand from renewable energy sources. By combining the existing hydroelectric pumping system at the Steenbras dam (400 MW) and the two open-cycle gas turbines (1,327 MW and 171 MW) with this 10% renewable energy, the City should be able to avoid future problems. load shedding, he continues.

Eskom will always have a big role to play, but dependence on Eskom alone to provide coal-based electricity is not sustainable and it does not work for South Africa.

Phindile Maxiti, City of Cape Town

But building your own power plant isn’t as easy as it sounds, Strydom points out. Conducting such an operation requires specialized infrastructure and skills. Some credit must be given to Eskom’s grid operators who ensure that the grid is balanced. “For the country to receive good quality electricity, power generation and power load must be balanced in real time. These system operators have the skills and the systems to make sure that happens. Load shedding is one of those mechanisms used to ensure that balance is in the network; it is terrible, but the alternative is much worse.

For Tsoai, renewable energy offers social, environmental and economic benefits that align with the global agenda for sustainable development. One of the main advantages of renewables is the speed of deployment. The time it takes to complete the construction of a wind farm – around 24 to 36 months – is about half the time it takes to build traditional power generation facilities, such as a coal-fired power plant. This means that it is much faster to develop the renewable energy needed to contribute to the electricity grid.

“At the end of the day, Eskom would like to provide all of us with the energy we need, but we don’t,” says Yelland. “The diversity of the offer is a good thing. If we all reduce our excessive reliance on Eskom for our energy needs, it really helps Eskom because it reduces the risk of load shedding for everyone.

* This feature was first released in the October issue of ITWeb genius idea magazine.

I want to be free

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