Renewable energy offers light at the end of SA’s dark power tunnel
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“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”, said Albert Einstein, the late famous theoretical physicist. In South Africa’s case, where the ageing power grid continuously breaks down, plunging the country into intermittent darkness — the opportunities lie in renewable energy.
Watch Bruce Whitfield and RMB experts as they discuss how to generate more renewable energy and solve the country’s power issues
South Africa’s power stations were built in the 1970s, and currently, maintenance issues coupled with operational failures are making it difficult for the national grid to keep the lights on. The newly built Kusile and Medupi have also presented their own set of problems; resulting in the country having a significant power deficit. To deal with the deficit, in 2011, South Africa launched the renewable energy independent power producer programme (REIPPP) — aimed at diversifying the energy the country uses.
Fast forward to 2022, where a plethora of international and local companies who are independent power producers are selling electricity to Eskom and other corporates. To speed up the pace, last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa allowed South African businesses to self-generate 100MW of electricity.
Daniel Zinman, Head of Power - Infrastructure Sector Solutions at RMB says that renewable energy has now become a “developed market”, and people can shield themselves from loadshedding, by acquiring sustainable energy from various sources.
Zinman explains one of the ways renewable energy works is that independent producers use Eskom’s transmission network to transfer electrons or power to various destinations in the country. The other way of doing it is to put the source of generation at the site which is going to be consumed. This includes putting solar panels on roofs and using batteries on site — which then would enable consumers to avoid load shedding. “The excitement around the sector is that the solutions are relatively bespoke, depending on what the power needs and consumption profile of a particular corporation is concerned”, says Zinman
Keith Webb, Infrastructure Finance Sector Lead at RMB says as there is an increase in renewable energy, people believe that this private power initiative is going to mean Eskom does not have a role, which is not the case.
Eskom runs one of the biggest grid networks in the world. So Eskom is going nowhere, we need Eskom and we need it to be successful, but what we talk about is a restructuring of the energy market.Keith Webb, Infrastructure Finance Sector Lead - RMB
As this transition to cleaner energy is happening, in a country where industries have been built around fossil fuel, there are concerns on what is going to happen to employees who have been working for decades in this field.
But, Zinman says that Eskom has realised that there’s a problem — and they have ideas around how to transition current employees in the coal mining sector and retrain them.
He mentions that there’s a lot of land available in Eskom-owned areas which can be used to build solar plants. They can encourage a local industry, which can supplement workers who are realistically going to lose their jobs when coal fired plants are no longer needed.
Webb added that coal power stations are pretty close to gas pipelines. Those past stations could be “repowered because you still need that baseload power, and maybe a gas fired power station is quite flexible”, adding that, if corporates have renewables coming on during the day, they have gas filling in the gaps at night.
Although the biggest customers for renewable energy are typically the mines and some corporates, Webb looks forward growing the renewable energy market in South Africa.
I think the exciting thing for me is that we are creating an industry here and you know, we are moving into a private power market where there's a willing buyer, willing seller.Keith Webb, Infrastructure Finance Sector Lead - RMB
This article first appeared on 702 : Renewable energy offers light at the end of SA’s dark power tunnel