Load-shedding and the ongoing tariff hikes from State-owned power utility Eskom have cemented the need for alternative energy sources that do not depend on the national grid, says energy consultancy firm EON Consulting MD Bertha Dlamini.
“No matter how one examines the future, the increase in residential, commercial and industrial battery, inverter and photovoltaic (PV) systems is here to stay. The current growth of commercial and industrial PV installations in Gauteng is around 180 MW and this value is increasing by about 10% each year.”
She predicts that, at the current rate, and within 20 years, 40% of the total daytime energy demand in South Africa could be provided by rooftop PV systems.
Dlamini says the existing baseload to the grid is maintained by an ageing fleet of coal-burning power stations that emit high levels of carbon, with a backlog of maintenance interventions required to ensure the necessary availability of power.
Efficient energy supply in the country has been further compromised by a failure to successfully implement alternative energy sources at a national level, owing to a number of challenges, she adds.
These include a lack of widespread skills and knowledge in government and the private sector in terms of technical elements and implementation. There are also difficulties with dispatch availability when energy is required versus when it is produced.
She lists additional storage costs, potentially inhibitive governance and policy, long and delayed periods of programme development and implementation, the decentralisation of power generation capability and small-scale renewables often being rolled out to the domestic market without a maintenance plan – which result in a loss of investment when products or their components fail – as further challenges.
Dlamini also notes that utilities providers are reluctant to sign power purchase agreements with independent power producers, owing to unfavourable terms, which has subsequently resulted in a sharp increase in individuals and businesses seeking alternative energy sources to the national grid.
“What is key for Eskom and municipalities is to creatively respond (in time) to revenue loss and provide alternative solutions that will complement the situation – not make it worse . . .” she states, adding that they must become “proactive players” in the new market and facilitate its devel- opment and operation.
Dlamini says it is in the interest of Eskom and the municipalities to recognise that central energy generation and distribution will be put under pressure in order to survive the installation of residential, commercial and industrial rooftop PV systems, as customers want to buy and sell surplus energy when it is available, without unnecessary legislation barring those transactions.
She advises that Eskom’s operational model be amended to cater for energy purchases from virtual power plants, which can provide shortfall energy when needed by moving bulk energy from one suburban area to another, as needed.
Municipalities should also provide customers with network connections that enable them to buy and sell their energy through aggregators, as well as provide access to markets that will enable them to buy and sell surplus energy when it is available, Dlamini further suggests.
She explains that, in such circumstances, municipal revenue streams will come from contract enablement and connection charges, changing their role from energy provider to energy transport enabler.
Nuclear power as an alternate energy source has become a topic of much discussion, with President Jacob Zuma stating in his State of the Nation Address earlier this year that South Africa’s nuclear build programme aims to introduce 9 600 MW of nuclear energy in the next decade.
“Contrary to what people think and believe, nuclear power provides by far the safest option,” says University of Pretoria Nuclear Engineering Department professor Johan Slabber, adding that it compares almost on a one-to-one basis with coal in terms of costing, with the capital cost being somewhat higher, but the running cost being much lower.
He notes that the Koeberg nuclear power station has been running smoothly for more than 30 years. “Its load factor is over 90%, compared with coal-fired stations which run at 75% . . . So, with this as a clear example of a reliable and safe technology, why hesitate any longer?”
North-West University School of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering lecturer Dr Anthonie Cilliers concurs with this sentiment, as he believes “very strongly that nuclear energy has the potential to transform [the] country’s economy as it has done for South Korea – catapulting it from the second-poorest country in the world to an industrial and economic power house”.
Similarly, expecting a large national spend on nuclear power in the near future, a key area of EON Consulting’s business at present is assisting prospective South African companies that want to participate in the nuclear new build. EON Consulting assesses whether such companies are competent to do so by identifying areas in their operations that require development.