by Roger Lilley, Now Media –
To overcome the scourge of load shedding, two components are urgently needed: more generating capacity and an improved and privatised transmission network.
According to Eskom, load shedding is implemented to protect the grid when demand for electricity exceeds – or could exceed – generating capacity. As the country emerges from severe restrictions and tries to restart its industrial base, electricity demand is set to increase from the low level of demand during the period of lockdown. The solution is more generating capacity, but this in turn needs a new approach to transmission.
Speaking at a recent webinar, organised jointly by EE Business Intelligence, the Joburg Centre of Software Engineering, and Nedbank, the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, said that the government is supportive of the independent transmission system and market operator (ITSMO) concept. This, he said, is one of the indispensable structural reforms the government is currently pursuing in its drive to overcome the current electricity crisis and provide universal access to reliable, affordable electricity.
Eskom’s chief executive, Andre de Ruyter, said at the same event that an investment of about R100-billion is needed to strengthen and develop the national electricity grid. This, he said, would enable the addition of more privately owned generation to the grid. To accommodate more distributed renewable energy-based generation, the transmission network would have to extended by 8000 km by 2030, he added.
This investment could come from the private sector, de Ruyter said, but it would require the establishment of an independent transmission operator. He said that the creation of an ITSMO should be prioritised and accelerated. The ITSMO must be independent of Eskom’s control, he insists, as that independence would remove concerns of possible bias and make the grid available to all prospective generators and users.
UCT’s professor emeritus Dr Anton Eberhard, also speaking at the same event, agreed with de Ruyter, and said that the ITSMO was an essential element in the unbundling of Eskom.
The ITSMO, Eberhard said, would offer a transparent and fair platform for the competitive procurement of least-cost electricity. Further, it would remove Eskom’s conflict of interest and set the stage for greater diversification, competition, and private sector investment.
Eskom’s ageing, poorly maintained, fleet of mostly coal-fired power stations cannot meet the demand on their own and the power utility has frequently had to resort to using peaking plant to provide continuous power. This peaking plant comprises, in the main, diesel-powered modified gas turbines. These machines are the most expensive to run in Eskom’s fleet and were built to provide additional power for short periods to meet peak demand.
Part of the problem has been the unreliability of many of the ageing power stations with frequent outages occurring. The solution is additional generating capacity. However, Eskom’s two new coal-fired power stations, Kusile and Medupi, which are years behind schedule and four times over budget, also suffer problems resulting in outages. In fact, these two power stations provide little to the overall solution.
For the country’s economy to recover and provide more jobs, it would need more inexpensive electricity generating capacity to come online quickly.
To address this problem, the government instituted the Renewable Energy Independent Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) to provide the country with an additional 17 800 MW of electricity by 2030. Thus far, the REIPPPP has produced 70 fully operational solar- and wind-power projects supplying 4300 MW onto the national grid. The minister of mineral resources and energy recently announced the opening of bids from independent power producers for the building of the next tranche of projects, to add a further 11 800 MW to the network. However, while this additional generating capacity is essential, a revitalised transmission system is indispensable.
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