Eskom’s plans to end load shedding have been dealt a blow after several energy projects, including Karpowership SA's three proposed gas-to-power plants at Saldanha Bay, Coega, and Richards Bay, lost their grid access rights.
This outcome was due to their failure to secure financial closure by the December 31, 2023, deadline.
Alongside these, the Mulilo Coega Gas to Power and Gemsbok PV plants, with a combined capacity of 200MW, also faced the same fate.
These projects were initially selected as preferred bidders in the 2020 Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, a government initiative aimed at rapidly integrating an additional 2,000MW into the national grid to mitigate load shedding. Notably, Karpowership SA was expected to contribute the majority of this capacity, amounting to 1,220MW.
With the expiration of their grid access at the end of 2023, South Africa stands to lose approximately 1,400MW of potential dispatchable power. This setback is a significant blow to the country's efforts to bolster energy security and could lead to increased load shedding.
At a media briefing on Tuesday, Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa expressed disappointment at the missed opportunity to secure these megawatts, acknowledging the need to revisit strategic planning.
He highlighted the impact of this development on the country's ability to swiftly address its energy crisis.
Ramokgopa also stressed the government's commitment to adhering to the procurement rules set by Eskom and the Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme Office, emphasising the importance of meeting financial closure deadlines. He mentioned plans for a meeting with the Eskom board to explore alternative strategies for procuring emergency power.
Eskom described the loss of grid access for these projects as regrettable, noting their potential to significantly reduce load shedding.
The grid capacity initially reserved for these projects will now be reallocated to other 'shovel-ready' projects, following Eskom's interim grid access guidelines. The power utility is currently evaluating potential projects that could quickly supplement the grid.
In a significant development, The Green Connection, an environmental advocacy group, has expressed its satisfaction with Eskom's decision to withdraw grid space from Karpowerships.
Liziwe McDaid, The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead, criticised the Karpowership project as costly and controversial, noting its delay of over a year. McDaid expressed hope that the now-available grid space will accelerate the connection of more power projects, potentially alleviating the country's persistent load shedding issues.
The Green Connection, along with other organisations, has appealed the latest environmental approvals granted to Karpowerships and challenged its electricity generation licence awarded by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa). The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has also raised similar concerns.
Neville van Rooy, The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator, pointed to Karpowerships' track record in Africa, where it cut power in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau due to unpaid bills, as a warning sign.
Meanwhile, Ramokgopa has cautioned that despite Eskom's efforts to improve its generation system, South Africans should brace for continued load shedding.
Ramokgopa attributed the grid's unreliability to legacy issues, including underinvestment and insufficient maintenance planning at Eskom.
He stated that the country would experience intermittent periods of load shedding, with Eskom's summer outlook suggesting that it should not exceed Stage 4.
The minister noted that during the low-demand period of December 22-29, 2023, Eskom capitalised on the opportunity to conduct planned maintenance on its fleet. This work was part of an ongoing effort to ensure the fleet's performance and readiness for increased demand, with the aim of delivering efficient megawatts.
Eskom is reportedly decreasing its planned maintenance in anticipation of rising demand.
Ramokgopa recalled that in December 2022, the return of three units at Kusile power station contributed to periods without load shedding.
He also mentioned improvements at Eskom, including reduced repeat failures and additional buffers to mitigate the need for load shedding or to lower its intensity.
The minister highlighted delays at Kusile's Unit 1, which returned to service five months later than scheduled.
However, he expressed confidence in the generation team's work to prevent similar delays with Unit 2, currently out of service.
Regarding nuclear power, Ramokgopa updated Koeberg's Unit 1 and 2, which are extending their licences.
He emphasised the significant work done to meet regulatory requirements and compliance for licence extensions. Koeberg's Unit 1 has successfully passed full load tests and is expected to contribute to the grid for the next 20 years.
Additionally, Kusile power station’s Unit 5 is undergoing synchronisation and testing, currently operating at 60% capacity.
Ramokgopa urged public participation in the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2023, issued by Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, for public comment. The IRP, an electricity generation plan, aims to balance supply with demand, while considering environmental impacts and total supply costs.