SOUTH Africa’s electricity grid received slight relief this week after the Minister of Electricity, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, announced that the country had secured 1000 megawatts of electricity from Mozambique.
Ramokgopa told the media that the country would receive 600MW in the next six months and 1000MW in the long term through Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa hydroelectric power plant.
Eskom’s crisis, which led to the creation of Ramokgopa’s cabinet post, has been a thorn in South Africa’s economy and development.
Plans and short-term solutions continue to be used to stave off a feared total grid collapse that could cause a blackout.
Through early June, the power utility has managed to reduce load shedding to rotations from the late afternoon in line with the maintenance of Eskom’s coal fleet and ensure the fragile grid sustains electricity output.
While the daily suspension may feel like a slight reprieve to some, energy expert Lungile Mashele said that this was due to Eskom’s preparations for a possible harsh winter and their aggressive maintenance plans, which she called standard engineering practice.
“From the beginning of the year, they increased on the maintenance side and are working aggressively towards ensuring that any unplanned outages are below a certain number,” Mashele said.
“Now that we’re in winter, it means that they have succeeded. But this also speaks to instability because occasionally, we will get 1000MW, then a day later, we only get 28000MW.”
Ramokgopa stressed earlier in the week that the country still faced a harsh winter even after Eskom’s generation capacity in its energy availability factor rose on June 2 by seven percentage points to 60%.
Energy expert Ruse Moleshe said that if Eskom’s efforts continued on this trend, their set targets could be met, along with assistance from neighbouring countries and the power pipeline from the private sector.
“Eskom is on the right track because they have met 60% of the energy availability factor. They are reducing the unplanned outages that were over 18000MW in the past to around 15000MW; that’s a good sign,” Moleshe said.
The assistance from Mozambique is one of the measures that Eskom and the Ministry of Electricity have looked into following advisory and model programmes from other countries that have created stable power grids.
Moleshe explained that many countries in Africa and globally will rely on their own internal capacity and imports from other countries. Examples given are Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, India, Sweden, Germany, and Poland.
“It’s a good thing that Mozambique will avail power to Eskom. Obviously, 1080 to 200 megawatts is an important contribution, but obviously it’s still not that significant given the gap that we have,” Moleshe said. “Any one megawatt is important for this system. However, the more significant capacity will come in six months. If Kusile comes back online with the three units that are expected in December, then if the 600 megawatts come in from Mozambique, that’s likely to have a good impact.”
Mashele said that despite the government’s efforts to reduce grid dependency by South Africans by turning to renewable energy (like solar) to alleviate the demand for electricity, more technology must be developed to store and convert collected solar power for evenings and weekends.
Mashele called for more technology feeds into the increased need for investment in renewable energy sources to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and ensure a sustainable energy future for South Africa.
“It will not help as everybody does solar. It means that during the day, what happens now (that) we have more than enough capacity, but in the evening, we have no solution.
“They will simply reduce the demand during the day, which is what we have left in any case, but in the evening, all of that has to come back again. And Eskom doesn’t have that capacity,” Mashele said.
She said the adoption of energy-efficient practises through planned and legal means by all stakeholders, would ease the transition in terms of building a more resilient and sustainable energy system that meets the needs of all South Africans.
Mashele emphasised the importance of taking into account Eskom and the electricity minister’s plans for plant decommissioning in accordance with the Just Energy Transition. She predicted that the visible signs of a permanent end to load shedding would only appear by 2025.
“At the same time, one has to take into account that during this period Eskom has to decommission some of the plants as well, and this is where the minister was basically saying that they need to delay that. Which is all fine and well, but what’s the long-term plan?” she asked.
“It may seem very little to see 80MW here, 100MW there, but it all adds (up) eventually. I think there just needs to be a more concerted effort to get in additional capacity.”