Johannesburg - Eskom yesterday moved to clarify its chief executive Brian Molefe’s recent comments about the failure of renewable energy projects to deliver electricity capacity during peak periods when power demand spikes.
The utility said it supported the renewable energy projects and currently had long-term contracts with 47 renewable energy projects. Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said the total output from the renewable energy projects amounted to 1 800MW.
“More (renewable energy independent power producers – Reipp) will be added in due course as per the Department of Energy Reipp programme,” said Phasiwe. “In anticipation of these projects, Eskom will spend R213 billion between 2016 and 2026 to connect renewable energy projects to the national grid.”
The move follows the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia) taking umbrage at Molefe’s reported comments about the disappointing performance of renewable energy plants.
Molefe said, without storage capability, the renewable energy projects could not come to Eskom’s rescue during peak periods when the utility’s power demand peaks.
The comments evoked a strongly-worded response from Sapvia, which has members who own and operate renewable energy projects in South Africa as part of government’s renewable energy independent power producer procurement (Reipp) programme. Sapvia chief executive Moeketsi Thobela said Molefe’s comments were ill-informed “at best,” and misleading “at worst.
“The association said renewable energy contributed to a reduction in diesel consumption during the 2014/15 financial year, “thus freeing up resources required to supply peak demand. This was especially helpful in cases where open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) would otherwise have been required to run for much longer periods, thus putting additional upward pressure on diesel costs and availability,” said Thobela, adding that operational wind and photovoltaic generation facilities that were part of the Reipp resulted in diesel cost-savings of R3.7 billion and R3.5bn, during the whole of 2014, and the half-year period between January and June last year, respectively.
“Taking into account their contribution towards reducing load-shedding during these periods, the facilities resulted in a net-saving to the economy of R4.8bn,” he said. He also dismissed claims that it could not provide electricity supply during peak periods.
“This is not true, given the contribution of photovoltaic to energy supply during the morning peak period in South Africa. The focus on peaking supply ignores the requirement for an energy mix that consists of technologies that serve different purposes – a position clearly articulated in all of government’s energy policy documents. For instance, photovoltaic and wind are traditionally not designed to supply capacity, in the same way that diesel-fired OCGTs are not designed to operate beyond peak periods,” said Thobela.
An optimal combination of photovoltaic and wind power plants, geographically dispersed across South Africa, had the capability to increase the level of energy security, Thobela said. “It was not necessary for peak demand to be supplied at any cost as there are more efficient approaches to supplying the thermal applications that typically result in the peak demand,” he said. “That is where the focus of a responsible, informed discussion on South Africa’s energy transition should lie.”
But Phasiwe said Eskom had also invested in renewable projects such as the 100MW Sere wind farm in the Western Cape. He said Eskom would add another 100MW of solar power from a plant that will be built in Upington, Northern Cape.
“Some of Eskom’s power stations, including its Megawatt Park head office, use solar power for lighting purpose,” said Phasiwe.