Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa says attention should shift to adding new and cleaner generation to the loadshedding-prone electricity system, acknowledging that it would be the “height of folly” to rely on significantly extending the life of the breakdown-prone coal stations.
While much of his latest briefing on the implementation of the Energy Action Plan was dedicated to improvements in the operating performance of some of Eskom’s coal units, Ramokgopa said there could be no “overreliance” on the units in future. This, given their advanced age and the fact that many trade-focused domestic industries had to decarbonised to remain internationally competitive.
He refused to be drawn on the contents of a report commissioned by the National Treasury to assess the state of Eskom’s coal plants, including the potential for concessioning and some limited life extensions considering the slow pace at which South Africa had added new capacity in recent years.
Eskom’s Eric Shunmagum confirmed that the utility had made comments and had also challenged some of the recommendations made by the Vgbe-led consortium that drafted the report and said that Eskom was working with the National Treasury to ensure a “fair and balanced” technical assessment emerged.
For his part, Ramokgopa underlined the need for new and cleaner non-Eskom generation capacity, saying: “We are doing all that we can to restore the reliability of these units, but you can’t take away the fact that they are aging . . . [The] only reason we are going this route [of focusing on the performance of the coal power stations] now is because it the shortest way to ending loadshedding.”
The future, however, depended on adding new generation and unlocking the estimated 66 GW of mostly wind and solar capacity estimated to be at various stages of development across South Africa, including in areas such as Mpumalanga were there was grid connection capacity available.
“An overreliance on these [coal] units I think is particularly unhelpful; it’s the height of folly to suggest that, going into the future, this is going to resolve our problems . . . and that’s why we must accelerate the onboarding of new generation,” the Minister said.
He again emphasised the importance of expanding the grid to facilitate additional renewables generation. He did not answer a question, however, on when he expected Eskom to publish its updated Generation Connection Capacity Assessment, the absence of which is believed to be one of the reasons why the seventh renewables round was not launched in September as initially scheduled.
Likewise, Eskom has not released its updated approach to the issue of curtailment, which could unlock significant grid capacity even in those areas previously indicated to be oversubscribed.
Interim CEO Calib Cassim did state recently, however, that he saw unlocking immediate grid capacity through curtailment as an urgent priority while Eskom and other stakeholders assessed funding options for expanding the transmission network.
Without offering any update on when South Africa would launch additional public procurement rounds, Ramokgopa reported that 1 338 MW of private generation was expected to connect to the grid in 2023, followed by 3 081 MW in 2024.
He also stated that one project falling under the much-delayed risk-mitigation scheme was on track to reach legal close by the end of October, and two further projects by December. The projects would contribute an additional 424 MW, he said, implying that the 1 200 MW powership projects were not the ones in question.
He added that three more projects from the delayed fifth renewables bidding round were on track to reach commercial close by the end of November, representing 300 MW.
The Minister also stated that the capacity of rooftop solar had doubled since July 2022 to over 4 500 MW, which had helped to reduce loadshedding over the winter months.
He insisted that government remained supportive of yet further rooftop investment, despite some system operator concerns over these additions taking place under a tariff framework that was not fully cost reflective and equitable.
The Minister reiterated that work was under way to develop a funding instrument to enable poorer households to invest in rooftop solar.