By Andrew Swanson
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced a number of measures to resolve the energy crisis that we are experiencing and to hopefully end load shedding.
Subsequent announcements include the appointment of suppliers for battery energy storage. The security of supply is the key driver in the announcements. The entire power system from the generation of energy to the consumption of energy is a complicated system.
It involves large coal-fired power plants in which there is large rotating machinery that generates energy. These systems generate high power but are slow to start and slow to stop. It is key that these generators are maintained so that we have the ability to generate sufficient energy.
The energy is then transmitted to consumers around the country and what makes the system more complicated is the way we consume energy over the course of a day, week or month. It is fairly consistent, but not in the way we always want. We consume large amounts of energy at peak times in the morning and evening and the systems need to adjust for this.
The procurement of new generation capacity is good as it adds more energy sources to the system and takes the strain off the load-shedding requirements and allows some breathing room for the large generators to be maintained in a preventative manner.
The incoming (large) solar and wind energy supplies are great for the transition toward the carbon-free and sustainable energy system, and while there are challenges with the variability of the energy that solar and wind supply, they can be mitigated with energy storage systems.
All of these allow the power system to be flexible in supplying its customers, and hopefully, our country learns from the experiences of others around the world where the flexibility was not as high a priority.
The systems exist for the commercial and residential application of small scale embedded systems such as solar photovoltaics. The standards for connection to the networks have been in place for a number of years and a number of the municipalities are dealing with connections to the grid on a daily basis.
I hope the announcements lead to further incentives to connect to the grid. Of particular interest is to see how all the new connections can be used to create a flexible grid that responds dynamically to the demands of customers so that no energy is wasted, (for instance, when it is 12pm and no one is home to use the power).
The implementation of these announcements is always tricky. It does not happen overnight and I hope to see the development of an implementation plan in the near future. Fortunately, there is movement in the renewable energy sector and it is generating good momentum.
This is evident through the number of our newly qualified engineers and technicians in the country who have seized the opportunity to work in this space, from designing the small-scale embedded generators (residential PV) to working on large CSP and wind energy, and this is encouraging.
I hope that the announcements lead to more of our engineers and technicians working in the sector and contribute to moving us toward the carbon-free energy system.
* Dr Swanson is a lecturer in Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the School of Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.