Some IPP power plants may never be built, says Eskom, because South Africa’s electricity transmission grid cannot support additional generators.
So, while the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has sought the use of private power producers to meet the shortfall of electricity to end load shedding, the state-owned power utility is limiting access to its transmission grid.
According to Eskom, the existing grid cannot carry additional power, especially from places which are far from where the loads are situated and where more renewable energy plants could be built.
Eskom’s announcement means that even Minister’s Mantashe’s 2000 MW Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP) might never come to fruition. This became evident recently when a government award for 3200 MW of wind energy failed because there was no grid connection available.
Mantashe awarded about 60% of the RMIPPPP to Karpowership more than two years ago, but that award expires on 31 July this year. Although the deadline could be extended, that wouldn’t solve the problem. Eskom doesn’t have the money needed to upgrade the transmission network to support this additional generation capacity. And the legal challenge, on environmental grounds, against powerships moored at SA’s harbours is likely to continue.
Perhaps this is why Eskom offered land at its existing coal-fired power stations to IPPs. The injection point is already in place and, as the coal-fired plants are wound down, the power from renewable energy sources could help to meet some of the demand.
This announcement from Eskom also means that if a new nuclear power station is to be built at Thyspunt (or anywhere along the coast), a new transmission system, to evacuate the power and inject it into the national grid, would have to be built too, increasing the overall cost of that nuclear power plant – ultimately the electricity it would generate – significantly.
That additional cost would include land acquisition for the transmission towers to be built on, as well as the towers and wires themselves. This, in addition to the necessary substations and switching yards, would make the overall cost of a new, large, nuclear power station very expensive.
It seems that large, utility-scale renewable energy plants may have to be delayed until the transmission network is upgraded, overhauled and modernised to allow for power to be injected anywhere along its run. As a wise man once said, "you can't put new wine into old wineskins".
In the meantime, it seems that unless the government is willing to make a major investment in the upgrading and modernisation of South Africa’s transmission grid to accommodate additional power generation, the only solution is for additional power to be generated closer to load centres – where the power is needed – rather than sharing it with the whole country via the national grid.