While South Africa has to resolve the current power supply problems, the country needs to change its mindset and approach to the power system, as the system allows for ample opportunity to create space for additional growth, states State-owned power utility Eskom former sustainability executive and integrated energy and sustainability solutions provider Shanduvan MD Dr Steve Lennon.
Speaking at the second Electricity Conference in March, hosted by industry body the Fossil Fuel Foundation in Johannesburg, in Gauteng, Lennon warned that South Africa would edge towards becoming a nonsustainable economy if the country’s mindset continued to reflect doubt in terms of achieving future growth and the objectives of the National Development Plan.
While Lennon acknowledged that a lack of reliability and supply, including other limitations on the availability of electricity, were constraints to growth, he highlighted several countries that refused to accept electricity supply challenges as a growth impediment.
Citing a Mail & Guardian report in November 2014, Lennon noted that World Bank data revealed that “Nigeria had 25.2 power interruptions a month, with an average growth rate of 7.2%. South Africa had an average of 0.9 interruptions a month, but a growth rate of only 3.3%”.
He further cited the US Energy Information Agency, which noted that China’s gross domestic product growth from 2009 to 2013 averaged 7.7%, and that the country sought “to improve system efficiency, facilitate investment in the power grids and alleviate power shortages”.
Lennon declared that industry, therefore, needed to lift this growth constraint by refusing to accept the limitations, adding that several other industries could be facilitated with little electricity.
Rebirth Opportunities, Energy Revolution
“The South African power sector, while a mature industry, is going through a period of rebirth,” Lennon highlighted, emphasising the acceptance, evolution and success of alternative energy solutions worldwide, such as thin-film solar photovoltaic panel technology; commercial wave energy; biogas energy solutions; carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technologies; high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-based technologies; and wind energy.
“South Africa, therefore, has to design a system that can manage the incorporation of these technologies,” he says, adding that the correct choices regarding which technology to use should be pursued to create an optimised energy mix. He further suggested a dynamic power system model that included an end-to-end integrated approach, with complete interconnectivity.
While the trends in the electricity sector are a focus on moving from centralised to decentralised power and from conventional to renewable energies, as well as from fixed baseload to a flexible volatile generation, obstacles to the intensification of these trends include grid instability and congestion, as well as volatile markets, which is also evident in Europe.
However, Lennon argues that the solutions to this are smart grids and intelligent markets, adding that flexibility is key.
While suggested energy technologies for the power system would be subject to a highly variable system, the solutions were diversification, flexibility and resilience, with the imperative of the design for an open-source energy system to progress to a resilient and low-risk system, he noted.
“The solution is to ensure that the system is as open as possible,” Lennon stressed. He believed that the system, and not capacity, should be planned.
“This should be followed by smartening the system for visibility, operational and high granularity control, as well as infinite integration to the level of appliances and systems using electricity,” he suggested.
Further, electricity needed to be priced correctly, with a defined path to cost- effective, consistent tariffs, as electricity supply was connected to investor confidence and certainty, Lennon said, adding that a tariff could also be created for a storage market.
“The country further needs to ensure the drive for an efficiency revolution, and engineer it into our future,” he said, reiterating his belief that, as South Africa had achieved energy savings and demand side management in the past, the country could achieve it again.
Other suggestions included using every available supply option, including renewable-energy offerings, which would create space for Eskom to manage and upgrade the existing coal fired fleet; and the incentivisation of and support for South African energy innovation, with localisation on economies of scale. The system also has to be designed for changes in climate, with diversification of the entire value chain.
Lennon concluded that a national dialogue on the future structure of the South African power sector was required for all industry stakeholders to chart a way forward together.