As Eskom moves to draft a comprehensive plan for ending the protracted electricity crisis, a series of interesting proposals are emerging on ways to end load-shedding over the coming two years.
Most commentators agree that there is an urgent need to accelerate the introduction of new electricity generation and storage capacity as Eskom’s overutilised and undermaintained coal fleet effectively decommissions itself.
Given their time-to-deploy, cost and funding advantages, new electricity will have to arise over the period in the form of wind and solar photovoltaic installations, both rooftop and utility scale, with battery energy storage adding system flexibility.
There is also emerging consensus that relying on the long- promised recovery in the coal fleet’s energy availability factor (EAF) would be reckless, as it would hinge on a dramatic reversal in a trend that has been in place for several years at a time when enormous monetary, system space and skills impediments remain.
It would probably be more useful to declare several units to be officially decommissioned, so that maintenance priority can be given to those newer or larger units with the highest stabilising impact.
From that smaller and more realistic base, the coal fleet’s EAF will normalise to within international-type benchmarks, the true supply-demand gap will be plain to see, alongside the one that will arise with further decommissioning.
With the role of coal in ending load-shedding settled, attention can then be given to accelerating the introduction of new energy and capacity by easing any and all impediments to such a roll-out by independent power producers, municipalities, companies, individuals and Eskom, particularly where its repowering investments are aligned with the just energy transition.
There may be some debate as to whether emergency powers are required to stimulate such an acceleration and there is even more debate about which entity is best placed to oversee such a response.
There is far less debate, however, on the importance of grid access to this process.
Here, Eskom and its Generation Connection Capacity Assessment (GCCA) should be deployed more deliberately to guide the procurement of large-scale projects and to direct the siting of distributed generation assets.
One relatively simple way to do so would be to use the GCCA to inject a spatial dimension into the procurement of new electricity – and to do so purposely, rather than by default as is currently the case as transmission constraints emerge in key renewables regions.
This is not to say that significant grid investment is not necessary; it most certainly is. However, building it out into the Cape provinces will take time that South Africa simply does not have on its side.
By cutting our procurement coat to our current grid cloth, bidders would have vastly improved grid-connection visibility and certainty, Eskom would be able to ramp up the provision of budget quotes and the construction of new generation and storage assets can proceed at a speed and scale commensurate with the crisis.