South Africa’s Minister for Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa on Thursday had his back against the wall as Parliamentarians demanded to know his role in the energy sphere and what expertise he had brought to the table as eight months after his appointment, the country still faced debilitating load shedding, which he said was estimated at about R1 billion a day.
Appearing for the first time before the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, Ramokgopa alluded that the country’s grid faced numerous challenges as it had not been designed to take on the baseload that was now required to supply electricity throughout the country.
“The biggest limitation of supply is that the grid was not designed to meet the current needs. The density of the grid is in the Highveld of Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces which traditionally have generation capacity like close by and take up 72% of the load,” he said.
Ramokgopa said the biggest challenge faced from generation capacity was the high partial load losses, currently at about 14.500 kilowatts to a lower number as previous peaks of losses at about 17000 kW had resulted in higher stages of load shedding, including Stage 6.
He alluded to the insurmountable challenge faced by Eskom in building up a further 14 218 kilometres of the grid, which needed to be ramped up 315% at a cost of more than R390bn that the country could not afford over the next 10 years.
“To put it into context, in the last 10 years, Eskom has developed only 4300 kilometres of transmission but to accelerate it, they will need to install over 14 000KKM at a cost upwards of R390 million,” he said.
He said the total cost of the Energy Availability Plan had not been quantified as yet.
“According to a modelling by the South African Reserve Bank, 1600 MW of unmet demand for electricity translates to a 5% loss of GDP for the economy. So we are aware of the need to better supply electricity to stop the economic loss for the country,” he said.
The country is currently experiencing high levels of outage slips, when Eskom temporarily took power off the grid for repairs or maintenance, which for October amounted to 1783 MW.
“There are instances when we intend to return power at a certain time but if there are delays the outage slips, then affect supply,” he said.
Outlining his five point plan for returning electricity supply to normalcy, Ramokgopa said he was solely responsible for generation while his counterpart, the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, had the mandate to dismember Eskom into the three units, mainly generation, transmission and distribution.
Part of Ramokgopa’s mandate is the fixing of Eskom and improving the availability of existing supply, enabling private sector participation in generation for which the production of 66 kW was currently being off-taken by companies and would likely be all established by the end of 2024.
“A survey of project developers conducted by Eskom, the South African Wind Energy Association and the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association shows that 66 kw of wind and solar projects are in the development phase across the country.”
He dispelled doubts about South Africa’s baseload, consisting of coal, gas and nuclear being replaced by the renewable energy mix, as per the Just Energy Transition programme, pointing out that the take-off of renewable energy counted on the existence of the current baseload.
“Coal is part of the energy plan, the success of renewables is based on the existence of the current baseload,” Ramokgopa said.
He said he was engaged with the acceleration of procurement of new capacity from a mix of renewables, gas and battery storage.
“We are currently in talks with Mozambique and Namibia for the supply of at least 600MW, 100 MW from Mozambique’s hydro generation will be secured immediately while the rest will be procured from these countries over the next six months,“he said.
Parliamentarians were informed that Eskom had secured a generation unit to replace the damaged Medupi unit 4 which had been slated to be fully functional by the middle of 2025, but with the acquisition of a second-hand generator with at least 15 years of life left in it, the unit would be running by June next year.
He said Eskom was looking at the acquisition of technology to remotely control geysers amongst Eskom’s customers, which would enable the switching off of the implements which would help in avoiding load shedding.
“Geysers and water heating consumes the greatest amount of electricity which drives the peak demand, that is between 30% and 50% of household consumption. For every 10 insurance claims, one electric geyser is replaced with a solar water heater that has an upfront cost equal to 10% of the insurance claims. The current take-up of rooftop solar is estimated at less than 5%. For every 1 000 households that install a medium-sized system, 5MW of power is taken off the grid. To reduce one stage of load shedding or 1000MW, 200,000 households need to implement a similar system,” he said.