The policy package announced by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa this week, to cope with extensive grid black-outs, included a pledge to double the scale of the next round of the nation's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP).
With the previous round having commissioned 2.6 GW of solar and wind power generation capacity, Ramaphosa told the nation this week: “The amount of new generation capacity procured through bid window six for wind and solar power will be doubled from 2,600 MW to 5,200 MW.”
The sixth bid window was previously targeting 1 GW of solar and 1.6 GW of wind capacity and it was not clear whether the doubling in scale would be carried out on a pro rata basis.
The head of state also announced plans to entirely remove the requirement for distributed-generation solar and wind plants to be licensed.
South Africa in 2021 changed the threshold at which grid-connected clean energy projects would require a license, raising it from 1 MW to 100 MW.
Ramaphosa said that move “unlocked a pipeline of more than 80 confirmed private sector projects with a combined capacity of over 6,000 MW” and, as a result of that success, committed to “remove the licensing threshold for embedded generation completely.”
No date was given for the introduction of license-free clean energy development, however, and Ramaphosa stressed new installations would still have to fulfill technical requirements for grid connection and to meet environmental standards.
A request for proposals will be issued in September, the head of state said, with the aim of procuring an unspecified volume of battery storage capacity.
The president said deeply indebted national utility Eskom had recently made available enough land near its power stations in Mpumalanga province to host 1.8 GW of new clean power generation capacity and announced further emergency moves by the electric company to secure more power.
“As an immediate measure, surplus capacity will be bought from existing independent power producers,” said Ramaphosa. “These are power plants which built more capacity than was required and can now supply this excess power to Eskom. As part of addressing the shortage of megawatts, Eskom will now also purchase additional energy from existing private generators such as mines, paper mills, shopping centers and other private entities that have surplus power.”
Slash red tape
Promises to reduce paperwork and smooth permitting procedures inevitably draw a skeptical response from industry but the head of government said: “We will … be tabling special legislation in parliament on an expedited basis to address the legal and regulatory obstacles to new generation capacity for a limited period … We will, in the meantime, waive or streamline certain regulatory requirements where it is possible to do so within existing legislation. This includes reducing the regulatory requirements for solar projects in areas of low and medium environmental sensitivity.”
A more concrete pledge related to the domestically-made component requirements which apply to solar farms procured under the latest round of the REIPPPP.
Ramaphosa said the government would take “a pragmatic approach to the local content requirements for these projects, prioritizing the need to build new capacity as quickly as possible.”
The president said Eskom is on track to separate its electricity generation and distribution businesses into separate units this year, having already hived off its transmission operations into a separate entity.
Ramaphosa also said the treasury is working on a plan to ease the troubled utility's near-ZAR 400 billion ($23.7 billion) debts.
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