President Cyril Ramaphosa says that the government is pulling on every resource it has to get power onto the grid as a matter of extreme urgency.
However, he said that the ‘energy action plan’ – announced six months ago – could not be implemented overnight and that measures would take time to yield results.
Writing his weekly letter to the public, Ramaphosa said that load shedding in the country is a result of a ‘perfect storm’ of various factors hitting all at once, including a lack of investment in new generating capacity, poor Eskom power plant maintenance, corruption, criminality, sabotage, rising debt and a lack of skills.
However, he acknowledged that South Africans no longer want to hear excuses.
In an attempt to fight back the onslaught of rolling blackouts, Ramaphosa said that Eskom’s singular focus is improving plant performance – while the government is also trying to find sources of new generating capacity.
One major source of new generation is rooftop solar panels on houses and businesses, he said.
Ramaphosa said that work would soon be completed on a pricing structure that will allow customers to sell surplus electricity from rooftop solar panels into the grid.
“To incentivise greater uptake of rooftop solar, Eskom will develop rules and a pricing structure – known as a feed-in tariff – for all commercial and residential installations on its network.”
Designated local content for solar panels has been reduced from 100% to 30% to alleviate constraints.
On Sunday (22 January) Eskom chair Mpho Makwana also noted that rooftop solar was one of the various strategies the power utility was looking to leverage to help mitigate the crisis.
Makwana said that plans around the rollout of rooftop solar are expected to be detailed in the coming weeks.
Businesses and civil society at large have been calling for rooftop solar incentivisation for years.
In August 2022, for example, the Democratic Alliance (DA) proposed an alternative energy plan that was ‘consumer-centric’ and proposed to facilitate feeding surplus energy from customers into the grid.
The policy proposed incentives for personal solar installations like granting a once-off tax rebate to households that install them.
Even without incentives, however, many South Africans have been forced into going off-grid. Property giant Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International stated that consumers and businesses are being forced to become ‘savvier’ and more self-reliant by investing in solar, wind or gas.
“As unpopular as the ‘trend’ may be, South Africa’s growing energy crisis and ubiquitous load shedding aren’t going to disappear anytime soon,” said Geffen.
Widespread implementation of rooftop solar could be a game-changer for Eskom and the day-to-day lives of South Africans. On 3 December 2022, financial services firm PwC calculated that if you were to put rooftop solar on Midrand’s (Gauteng) commercial and industrial properties, you could reduce load shedding in the country by one stage.
In the group’s South African Economic Outlook, published in December, PwC conducted a test to prove the effectiveness of smaller-scale private power generation in the form of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG), such as rooftop solar.
PwC found that the costs associated with electricity distribution are far lower with smaller systems, and if implemented efficiently, electricity could be fed into the grid at local substation which in turn could reduce national load shedding.
PwC found that there were approximately 638,000 square meters of roof space in Midrand with the potential to produce between 1,600kWh and 2,000kWh, per square meter – enough to lower load shedding by a whole stage, if used to power the national grid.
Ramaphosa said that a team of independent experts is diagnosing problems at poorly-performing power stations and taking action to improve performance.
Six power stations have been identified and will be the focus of plans over the coming months to recover additional capacity, he said.
“Eskom is also working to connect Kusile unit 5 to the grid by September this year. Every urgent effort is being made to restore units at Medupi, Kusile and Koeberg with significant capacity.”
He said Eskom has imported 300MW of capacity from neighbouring countries and added that negotiations are currently underway to secure a further 1,000.
“Eskom is also working to buy surplus power from companies with available generation capacity for a period of three years.”
The government, according to Ramaphosa, has also signed agreements for 25 projects from bid windows 5 and 6 of the renewable energy programme, which are set for construction soon.
“To increase the overall supply of electricity, in addition to what Eskom provides, we have taken steps to enable substantial investment by private power producers in new generation capacity,” said Ramaphosa.
The licensing requirement for embedded generation projects has been removed, he added.
“Since we first raised the licensing threshold to 100 MW, the pipeline of private sector projects has grown to more than 100 projects with over 9,000 MW of capacity.”
The government is said also to be working on cutting red tape and regulatory processes, reducing the timeframes for certain authorisations and registrations in line with the overall sense of urgency and despair faced by the country.