Flood-related blackouts strengthen case for new REIPPPP round in South Africa

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If the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) had acted more swiftly to process applications for small scale solar power systems, the blackouts suffered last week would not have been as severe, according to one analyst.

With the nation having already suffered extensive power failures this year as the financial crisis at utility Eskom worsened, the onset of heavy rains this month prompted more extensive blackouts. U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported Eskom said around a quarter of its electricity generation fleet had failed a week ago, due to flooding at coal-fired power plants, and at that stage the power company was only able to meet 80% of its energy supply commitments.

South Africa energy analyst Chris Ahlfeldt said the utility was paying the price for failing to waive permit restrictions on renewable energy generation projects with a capacity of up to 10 MW, as it is empowered to do under the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) finalized by the government in October.

Lack of urgency

“Recent load-shedding events would have been less severe if [the] government moved quickly to implement its own plans to meet [the] short-term energy gap with distributed generation,” Ahlfeldt told pv magazine. “The IRP 2019 acknowledges this is the quickest and cheapest way for the country to get more capacity on the grid and gives NERSA the mandate to approve license applications for projects under 10 MW in size to meet this gap.”

The analyst added, he suspected the explanation given by the utility that flooding was at the root of the problem was not the entire story. “Eskom has not been fully transparent as to the cause and location of its supply problems but indicated that a technical problem at its newest and over-budget coal plant, Medupi, lead to stage 6 load-shedding on Monday,” said Ahlfeldt, referring to an emergency grid measure which involved cutting different 6 GW loads from the network 18 times for four hours at a time over four-day periods or for two-hour windows over eight days.

A statement released by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy on Tuesday said it was pursuing several measures to bring forward new generation capacity. The plans included encouraging developers who secured project capacity in the last round of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program to bring facilities online earlier than planned and harnessing natural gas.

REIPPPP round five

In terms of the immediate crisis, the department said it would issue a request for information about new generation facilities, a move which would enable it to assess options within three to 12 months with a possible lead-in time for new generation assets of around three years. Such a move would “then enable the department to design an appropriate intervention in the immediate term”.

New website The South African reported on Saturday Eskom had promised there would be no load-shedding from Saturday until today and that “unplanned break-downs” would continue to be reduced.

Analyst Ahlfeldt said the recent black-outs illustrated why the government must conduct a fifth round of the REIPPPP, adding: “Hopefully recent load-shedding will create more urgency to approve license applications for distributed generation projects by NERSA and for [the] government to begin Round 5 of the REIPPPP as soon as possible.”