South Africa

NEW POWER ERA

The big switch-off: This is eThekwini’s vision to dump Eskom

A solar panel and wind generator at the Greenpeace renewable energy centre on Durban's beachfront during the COP 17/CMP 7 United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2011. By 2030 the eThekwini Metro wants 40% of all energy to come from sources other than Eskom, and by 2050 it aims to be 100% reliant on clean energy sources (Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA)
By Des Erasmus
25 Jan 2021 10

The metro has set a 30-year plan to divorce itself from using Eskom as a primary energy provider, largely over fears that the utility’s rising costs and load shedding will drive small and large clients off-grid, taking a chunk of the city’s revenue.

The draft eThekwini Energy Policy, which maps out the city’s strategy to dump Eskom, is out for public comment until 29 January. It has been available for public consumption since 15 December 2020.  

It sets out eThekwini’s vision to develop renewable energy for its 740,000 energy clients, to meet future demand and to “mitigate the impacts of load shedding and thereby drastically reduce reliance on Eskom’s coal-fired electricity generation”. 

South Africa has had rolling power outages of varying severity for over 12 years. 2019 was the worst year on record, according to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), that put the cost at between R59-billion to R120-billion. The total economic cost of rolling power outages dating back to 2007 was put at R167-billion and R338-billion, according to the CSIR Energy Centre report in January 2020.

On 16 October 2020, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe published amendments to the New Generation Capacity regulations, so municipalities in good standing can  “… apply to the minister to procure or buy new generation capacity…”

The regulations had to be amended to make it clear municipalities are also covered by the Section 34 determination regimen of the Electricity Amendment Act that traditionally governs independent power producers.

It is on the back of this policy shift that eThekwini began drafting the policy, and is trying to reach its carbon emission targets as set out in the Durban Climate Action Plan linked to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

By 2030 the metro wants 40% of all energy to come from sources other than Eskom, and by 2050 it aims to be 100% reliant on clean energy sources.

The draft policy, which consists of the eThekwini Integrated Resource Plan and the Energy Strategic Map, states that eThekwini has already lost a “significant number of industrial and residential customers” and faces the “imminent loss of more commercial customers who are already planning an additional 500MW of new, off-grid renewable energy for their own use”. 

The draft predicts that if clients continue to move off-grid, it will lead to retrenchments in the municipality and decreased revenue, and make it difficult for the city to cross-subsidise other critical services such as the provision of free basic electricity, health, and education.

“Eskom tariff increases, increased load shedding and sharp decreases in the price of solar and wind generation will continue to encourage customers large and small to turn to behind-the-meter and off-grid renewable generation for their own use,” according to the draft. 

“The cost for eThekwini to purchase power from Eskom is already higher today than to generate or purchase it from private renewable or gas Independent Power Producers (IPPs). Furthermore, the cost of power from Eskom is predicted to rise further, as a court ruled that Eskom may increase tariffs as of 1 April 2021.  

“This means Eskom customers will be paying R1.28/kWh in the next financial year. The increased cost of electricity from Eskom, combined with increased load shedding, is placing a growing economic strain on residences and businesses in eThekwini.” 

According to the document, eThekwini buys 5% of the total energy generated by Eskom. With the metro’s current maximum energy demand rising above 1,800MW, it is expected to breach 2,000MW by 2030. 

At a virtual briefing by the city on Friday to discuss the draft policy, its manager for renewables and gas, Sbu Ntshalintshali, said plans included eThekwini generating its own electricity. 

Ntshalintshali said that by as early as 2025 the metro envisioned owning generation capacity that would include 57MW in wind energy, 176MW in solar PV, 4MW from hydropower and 3.50MW driven by wastewater. The city also intends to have storage capacity for 180MWh. 

By 2030, the city expects to grow its capacity to 153MW in wind energy, 470MW in solar PV, 8MW in landfill gas, 11MW in hydropower and 5MW from wastewater, as well as 500MWh of storage capacity.

It also wants to buy 373MW from IPPs by 2025 and 745MW by 2030. 

“We remain hopeful that in 15 months from now we will be able to procure energy from IPPs. eThekwini Municipality has, since 2018, received a number of proposals, both locally and internationally, with an investment value of R300-billion,” said Ntshalintshali. 

“These [energy] projects have not been implemented because we did not have a mandate. Now that [President Cyril Ramaphosa] has given us that mandate we are going to entertain those projects. eThekwini Municipality has to use its resources in order to produce electricity. The load shedding can be easily eliminated by ensuring we have reserve capacity that is likely to come in and offset the impact of load shedding on our economy.” 

eThekwini’s future energy modelling needs were undertaken by international consulting firm, UK Arup, which was contracted by the C40 Technical Assistance Programme to provide the energy system and scenario modelling for the city’s energy plan.

The C40 Cities Network models itself as a number of cities committed to addressing climate change. UK Arup found that eThekwini’s “lowest-cost, technically viable solution” should involve solar PV, wind, landfill gas, wastewater and hydropower – publicly and privately owned. DM

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All Comments 10

  • This is so necessary. The amount of silent and invisible vomit the public has swollen from all the junk and poisoned statements statements. 30 years is too long. We need the expertise from successful countries in this field. The cost will be eaten away by the “electrifying” change in the growth of the economy.

  • Durban’s energy policy has been a long time in the making; we are working with communities on power generation, and they are now quite impatient! Let us hope that the launch of the policy signals a real willingness to work on renewable power generation.

  • An ambitious plan for a municipality that cannot even collect the refuse and litter, fix potholes or even maintain the road markings. Clearly someone is not getting their share of the loot and wants a tender or two.

  • “The draft predicts that if clients continue to move off-grid, it will lead to retrenchments in the municipality and decreased revenue, and make it difficult for the city to cross-subsidise other critical services such as the provision of free basic electricity, health, and education.”
    That says it all for me .
    First thought , ‘our jobs’ at the muni !
    Heaven forbid they should shed a few jobs !
    Next , ‘cross subsidation ‘ , ie , robbing Peter to pay Paul .
    ‘Paul’ being the poor voters . Getting free electricity !
    ‘Free’ ?
    Muni pays R1.28/kwh , for Escom to turn coal into electricity , feed to the muni !
    Yet here in EL , they slap on another R0.80 c/kwh .
    It is a cash cow !
    As industries move to supply themselves , so will the public .
    Admittedly in small numbers .
    I am bemused at the fact that I will spend about the same as my house cost 25 years ago to go solar .
    And just at todays cost of power , will take 10 years to pay off .
    At a conservative figure of only 10 % /pa . Will be more than double what I currently pay .
    Hence the conundrum .
    Falling sales , due to cost and loadshedding will continue , regardless . Less $$ to subsidise !
    At least they have committed to a time frame , 15 months .
    Just for ‘the plan’ ?
    Solar is the quick fix , savings from day 1 , a new growth industry , need installers !
    30 years , will be as old as my mom and have power that I paid for 25 years ago !
    So some new panels and a few batteries along the way .
    Am going that way soon , before the rush .
    Sooner or later folks will realise that Escom is in ICU , it is load shed and the back up generator fails to kick in !
    OOps !
    Medupi/Kusile are 3-5 years away from full capacity , being optimistic , at what more billions ?
    That said , by the time they come on stream , demand will have dropped , so they might plug the gaps in the aging fleet !
    3-5 years !
    Sure , we pay taxes , one way or another .
    Where does it go ?
    I cannot vote and expect little to nothing from a govt that I cannot take part in .
    I take what I can get 🙂 Legally .
    Wind farms , way to go , offshore /inland /both ?
    I believe there is already local capacity at some level , turbines need a solid footing and connections , more local industry !
    All down to cost delivered at your door !
    Wind farms might be grid tied , Escom ! One day the Transmission Dept . Still waiting .
    Wait for the Govt ?
    They talk about plans and fail to implement them !
    Latest ‘ Our borders are secure ‘ Min of Health on Covid outbreak , mid Feb , virus walked in from Italy on March 5th !
    I am making my house secure , from intruders .
    Eventually , the poor masses will rise again , the haves and have nots . They were promised so much .
    Unseating the ANC will take 5 years at least , local elections must take place , voter mobilization !
    In that time your power bill has gone up by over 50% .

  • Assuming that all goes to plan this might work out for Ethekwini. But this doesn’t sound like a solution that will work for the country. As municipalities and businesses decrease their reliance on Eskom it will mean Eskom’s revenue from electricity sales will fall and its ability to fund itself with be reduced. Implying a cycle of tariff hikes and more clients opting out. Surely the problem requires a better solution than each municipality doing its own thing?

  • Please don’t go off-grid ! We all can be #GoodGridCitizens and say NO to #GridDefection – it’s societally inefficient – Remember, it’s OUR grid after all – and we have a right to access it to buy&sell energy for our own profit

  • As long as the municipality and residents realise that if they still want to rely on ESKOM supply for backup (neither wind turbines nor solar panels work very well during tropical storms!), they will have to pay ESKOM (or somebody) the full cost of keeping those alternative power sources ready, just in case ….. That’s one reason that promotors of IPPs are looking at gas.

    Alternatively, Ethekwini could install its own backup system, but if you look at what Aggreko is doing in Chile, you will rapidly discover that is VERY expensive.

    Main point:- there is no simple quick fix and anyone who pretends that they have one is likely selling a profitable product to a sucker.