Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has hailed Eskom containerised electrification microgrid project in Swartkopdam as a new approach of the future in which renewables bring electricity to remote areas even without transmission cables.
This comes as Eskom Distribution on Friday rolled out its first microgrid technology at Swartkopdam in the Northern Cape in a bid to achieve universal access to electricity using clean and reliable technologies.
The microgrid technology at Swartkopdam will provide electricity to 39 households who did not have access to electricity prior to this project.
The electricity networks around the area are constrained and practically impossible to extend and connect the area.
Speaking at the launch on Friday, Gordhan said this was the beginning of a fascinating future for the community. Even if the long wires could not come to the area, electricity would still come to Swartkopdam.
Gordhan said there would be many more communities that would benefit from such microgrid projects.
He said over the next 10-15-20 years, numerous technologies were going to change and the way people get energy and electricity was going to change as well, and Eskom must also change as a result.
“[We] must also get used to the idea that there will be coal, there will be gas, there will be diesel, but there will also be renewables like the solar panels that you have around you that will give us the mixture of energy that we require,” Gordhan said.
“The Northern Cape is going to be the home of most of the renewable energy investments that take place in South Africa and have also already taken place in South Africa.
“But we are going to require thousands of kilometres of these wires called transmission wires to connect the renewables that are built in the Northern Cape with the rest of the country.”
Microgrids provide an effective, reliable, and easily deployable solution for electrifying geographically challenging areas that are either difficult to access or require extensive capital expenditure.
The installation of the microgrid at Swartkopdam follows successful installations of two pilot microgrid projects at Lynedoch in the Western Cape and Ficksburg in the Free State.
Swartkopdam was identified by Eskom Distribution as one of the high priority needs of the community and due to the remoteness of Swartkopdam, which also has critical facilities embedded in the grid, the microgrid with battery energy storage capability developed by Eskom Research, Testing, and Development (RT&D) was considered the most suitable solution.
A feasible conventional solution was to connect Swartkopdam by building a 200km 132kV line from Gordonia substation and establishing Noenieput substation at Noenieput, which was estimated to cost R250 million.
This option was considered extremely expensive and was, therefore, not pursued.
Eskom Distribution group executive Monde Bala said Eskom planned to roll out about 100 microgrids across the country by the end March 2024 as part of the Distribution business strategy.
“The deployment of the microgrids at Swartkopdam serves as a proof of concept in installing microgrids in remote areas which are difficult to reach or expensive to electrify through the conventional means of electrification,” Bala said.
“We will continue to close the gap of energy poverty by giving everyone a life changing experience of having electricity.”
Eskom board chairman Mpho Makwana said apart from the microgrids being cheaper, they also contributed to reducing carbon emissions because they used renewable energy sources.
“Through innovation and collaborative partnerships, Eskom is able to provide clean and reliable electricity to the people of Swartkopdam,” Makwana said.
“This project serves as reassurance of Eskom’s commitment to assisting the South African government in achieving its objective of ensuring that every South African has access to electricity.”
In addition to the installation of the microgrid and as part of ploughing back to the Swartkopdam community, Eskom is donating two mobile containers and recreational equipment to the Swartkopdam Primary School.
This is central to Eskom’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, which is designed around touching the lives of South Africans. The donation is envisaged to provide a good learning environment for learners and the neighbouring communities.