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How to make six stages of load shedding disappear

How to make six stages of load shedding disappear
Solar panels installed on the roof of a retirement village in Cape Town. (Photo: Guillem Sartorio / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

We’re loving the daytime break from blackouts. On most days this week Eskom has suspended load shedding for substantial parts of the day, kicking in rotational power cuts from late afternoon when demand grows.

1. South Africans have installed the solar equivalent of six load shedding stages

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association, the organised solar industry, went live on a really interesting data portal this week. By extracting solar PV panel data from satellite images, the association can now give a credible estimate of solar panel installations. By the end of March 2023, it estimated, there were 5.5GW of installed solar in South Africa, all but guaranteeing that it is now more than 6GW. In our power-constrained language, that’s the equivalent of six stages of load shedding now powered by the sun. Have a look. It will make your day brighter.

The association says:

· Residential installations are about 11% of total
· 33% are small-scale at less than 1MV
· 34% are in the range of 1MW to 50MW
· 32% are larger than 32%

There’s more progress on the energy front than we realise if we adopt a purview wider than just Eskom.

2. Soon you’ll be able to fill up with hydrogen

As the fuel price and its many stealth taxes whipped us on Wednesday evening, a new generation option was launched. Sasol, Toyota and Air Products SA filled a car with hydrogen-based fuel.

Sasol’s betting big on the fuel potential of green hydrogen and while the H2 that went into the tank this week is not yet green, it could be in future. The Toyota Mirai (pictured) is the company’s prototype hydrogen fuel-cell car. Three tanks store the hydrogen while a fuel cell produces the electricity to power the car, so it doesn’t need long charging. The hydrogen is still expensive, the green technology to make it a clean fuel is not yet perfected and the major-use case is likely to be for long-haul trucks and in mines and other big industrial operations.

But the launch does show that South Africa is innovating at important margins and this is a particularly interesting tripartite innovation. Lisa Steyn at News24 wrote a good explainer.

3. One year of the $8.5bn Just Energy Transition Investment Plan – almost nothing to show

This week, the office of the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET-IP) meant to manage the almost R200-billion programme presented an update to the Presidential Climate Commission. To say it’s underwhelming would be an understatement. To recap: the JET-IP was heralded at COP27 in 2022 (the big annual climate change indaba) as one of two breakthrough global agreements by wealthy countries to start financing (through grants and loans) a successful just energy transition in South Africa and Indonesia.

The update to the Presidential Climate Commission shows that precious little has been achieved by the project management unit of the JET-IP. What the report amounts to is some early diagnostic work and lots of big money asks. It’s a waste of what could have been a heralded project in the world. Let’s hope the next year will see faster progress. Read the full report here. DM

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  • ottohuis says:

    Retirement village ?? Looks like a Ouetehuis.

    • Christopher Bedford says:

      😁 Except it’s a block of self-contained flats with a recently commissioned Frail Care Centre. ‘Old age homes’ tended to be built around a frail care and accommodation consisted of rooms only.

  • Denise Smit says:

    It seems that us ordinary South Africans are fixing the energy crisis and not our three ministers. Al lot of us have installed solar and this is making more light and less loadshedding for the rest of the country. Denise Smit

  • Mark Sweetman says:

    What really worries me is that, despite all of the additional capacity added by the private sector, the loadshedding is getting worse…
    How bad would it be if we relied on eskom…

  • John Weaver Weaver says:

    My recollection is that Anglo American commissioned a hydrogen powered haul truck last year. Private sector well ahead of the game

  • Jill Mackay says:

    Thanks for the good news – we need it! But exaggeration is misleading and confusing. Six GWp of installed PV does not make six stages of loadshedding disappear. The “p” in GWp/MWp/KWp stands for “peak” which means that the rating refers to the maximum amount of power that the panels can produce, i.e. at midday on a sunny summer day. The rest of the time they produce less than their nominal capacity. And the PV systems that don’t export power (probably most of them), only produce enough to supply the local load, so a lot of potential production goes unused. The growth in uptake by the private sector is fantastic but we need plenty more PV, especially on the public system, plus wind and lots of firm power (storage and peakers) to sort out loadshedding. Sorry to be a party pooper but we are not out of this mess yet, far from it.

    • If you have batteries that are charged with solar during the day, the system works. My consumption passes from 1,000 kilowatts per month to 250. ( just for additional power to solar geyser). So contrary to that idiot of Mantashe says, renewable energy works. Viva André de Ruyter

      • Jill Mackay says:

        I agree! I think you might have misread my comment. Yes of course renewables work, and as I say above, we need a lot more of them. But the headline “How to make six stages of loadshedding disappear” is misleading as 6 GW of PV will not make six stages of loadshedding disappear.

    • mike muller says:

      And, since the sun shines when electricity consumption is (relatively) low, the energy provided is less helpful that that provided at peak times. Already, we hear about the need to ‘curtail’ solar and wind when the generation exceeds the local demand and transmission capacity. In some European markets, producers have to pay to be allowed to use the public grid to dispose of their surplus. And let’s not talk about storage and batteries:- even the cheapest form, pumped storage, costs more than the panels and wind turbines!

      So perhaps 1 stage of loadshedding at best, a lot of hot water (which is what you can use ‘excess power for) and hot air as a byproduct. Tame green journalists need to do some homework – and tell us who is funding them to talk nonsense!

      • Alan Cargill says:

        You make it sound like the daytime demand is very little compared to the peak. In reality they are around 25 and 30GW respectively. It is also not true to say that solar does not help and just constitutes waste power. Have a look at the Eskom daily demand graph, you will see that solar and wind often add around 3 to 4 and seldom add less than 2GW.

        Demand graph ia at Eskom web site dataportal/supply-side/station-build-up-for-yesterday/

        This is only power contracted to Eskom, so ignores industrial and private users. Therefore the article is not far off and we are probably being saved from around 6oad shedding levels based on present installed capacity.
        The issue of peak power is also somewhat overstated (by others). Our solar and wind often generate close to capacity and not just at midday.
        On curtailment, you are also spinning an anti RE story. Curtailment is not a waste of power. It is a way of managing grids and allowing more total intermittent RE capacity to be installed. It is very common around the world and is regarded as a best practice amongst grid operators. Again, it is s myth put around by anti RE parties that load shedding is a negative thing.
        Eskom is facing a R300bn capital upgrade of the grid. This cost can be deferred somewhat by adopting curtailment. Eskom are looking closely at the issue and may soon announce the introduction of curtailment, which in turn will improve grid capacity for intermittent RE, which will in turn further reduce load shedding.

    • mike muller says:

      Thanks Jill.

      A couple of years ago, I tried to persuade some editors – including of technical mags like Engineering News – to get into the habit of including that all important P ( as in MWp ) or, alternatively, to describe the output of a power project in terms of MWh (megawatt hours, how much energy is actually produced over a day or year).

      Maybe it was too complicated or maybe the advertisers and lobbyists didn’t like to see their big numbers divided by 4 or 6 but there was no takeup.

      As a result, outlets like Daily Maverick continue to promote the fiction that 1000 MW of solar or wind is the same as a unit of a power station like Koeberg (+/- 1000MW).

      Gives the lie to the slogan on the Daily Maverick banner “defend the truth”! and is one of the reasons that I have stopped contributing to DM Insiders…

      • Michele Rivarola says:

        As you pretend to know everything about very little 1000MW of Koeberg power does not translate into 1000 MW of electricity as the power generated by Koeberg’s alternators still has to be stepped up voltage wise so there are losses in the conversion unless you have invented a new type of transformer with zero losses. Btw let just make matters clear Koeberg’s costs in today’s rands would be unaffordable to SA’s economy given that we have more pressing needs, given that there are only limited funds in SA for infrastructure and given that the systems you so much chastise take less than a year or at most 14 months to come on line whereas a power station like Koeberg that takes 10-15 years and is hardly ever on budget. Unless you live in a different world nuclear power stations that are on budget and on time or on schedule are few and far between and in case you do not believe the obvious ask EDF or those sponsoring Hinkley in the UK just as two of the many examples. Today my PV system generated 38 kWhr which went to recharge my batteries and supply my house with zero contribution from the grid. So rather than casting aspersions about what you do not seem to know much about you should be thankful that there are many who have invested in renewable systems so that people like you can have electricity the whole day rather than being without for 12 hrs a day or so

        • Alan Cargill says:

          Exactly. All nuclear power stations also have capacity factors. Generally achieving between 85 and 90% would be considered reasonable. Koeberg being an old station will do well to stay above 75%. For the last year, and probably the next two it will be less than 50% as at least one reactor will be down for major capl work intended to extend the life of the plant.
          Offshore wing can achieve up to 60%. And here in SA where we have excellent renewable energy resources we have land based wind farms operating at up to 46%.

        • Ian.clyde.walker says:

          And you also make it sound like renewables will do more than they are capable of. This discussion is about solar, not wind AND solar. Looking at the Eskom demand chart, wind and solar CAN do 4MW in ideal conditions. But only for about 8 hours of “prime” solar time. Outside of these hours, which exclude the peak demand period between about 6 and 8pm, you are stuck with essentially wind only – if it is blowing. So, if you look at the two renewable sources separately, an additional 6 GW of SOLAR (in addition to Eskom’s supply) will help for, at best, eight hours a day – not at peak hours. And then only if the sun is shining. 6 GW will help (and any help is useful given Eskom’s performance), but not a chance that it will get to 6 stages.

          Very simplistically, if you look at the CSIR’s annual report on power generation, in 2022, solar PV was capable, on average, of producing at 25% of it’s capacity. In 2021, this number was 26%. There is no reason to believe that an incremental 6 GW will do any better than about 25%. There is also no arithmetic that will get you anywhere near 6 stages.

          None of this is to diminish the importance and help that will come from additional RE, but points out the challenges. Anti-RE rhetoric isn’t helpful. Neither is misleading wishful pro-RE thinking. What is required is a dose of realism from on sides of what is (but shouldn’t be) a binary, polarized discussion.

        • Ian.clyde.walker says:

          Well maintained nuclear generation has a capacity factor in excess of 80%, but has many other issues. Solar power doesn’t have these issues, but with South Africa’s sunshine has a capacity factor of 25% at best. Any amount of rhetoric from the proponents of either of these generation technologies won’t change this. The world needs more realism and less one-sided rhetoric and “”promotionalism” from all sides. The optimum generation mix is what is needed.

  • Don mingay says:

    Solar energy provides about 6 effective hours (equivalent to peak) per day. As such the load factor is about 25% at best and 6 GW would therefore provide about 1.5 loadshedding stages per day, not 6.

  • Glyn Fogell says:

    Our sectional titles scheme has almost finished commissioning a 78kWp system and are about to add a further 24 PV panels as we have more than adequate storage so that we can further reduce the need to use CoCT power when dark. All common property services run off the roof and stored sun power for around 12 hours a day now.

  • Ian.clyde.walker says:

    5.5 GW of installed solar capacity is NOT worth the equivalent of six stages of load-shedding. As you know, the sun doesn’t shine all the time. While rooftop solar may reduce (or nearly eliminate) load-shedding for those who have it, and will help system load-shedding, it will have nowhere near the overall effect you suggest. At solar capacity factors for SA, 5.5GW of installed capacity will, at best deliver 1.1-1.3GW power. So it may be worth one or a little more stages.

    You’ve come to your erroneous conclusion on several occasions before. You need to clarify your statements or risk your credibility.

    • Alan Cargill says:

      So on average it will not save 6 levels of load shedding, but during the day, it will. As the article mentions, it is good to spend day times free of load shedding. Had we moved quicker in installing renewables, studies have shown we may have been able to eliminate 95% of the load shedding we have all suffered.
      Our grid has 3,5GW (peak) of wind power installed. And that is growing quickly. The wind in SA very often blows hard during the evening peak demand.
      This is all good news, by the way. We can all be happy about it.

      • Jaap Harwig says:

        Agreed! To those who love to stress time and again the “average” figures and hence keep on given a negative view of solar and Wind generation, are merely reasoning along the lines of the well-known argument that “if you put your head in the freezer and your feet in the oven than on average you are dead”. Yeah, sure. They are right. But I for one for sure wish they would please stop being so negative about RE all the time.

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