Power, or the lack of it, is a touchy subject for most South Africans. In an online debate, co-hosted by Kevin Bloom of Burning Planet at Daily Maverick and Professor Mark Swilling, co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University, a panel of experts discussed how to bring more power online. It’s not really about generation, it’s all about the grid. 

Key points 

  • The numbers needed to finance the grid are huge, approximately R1,5 trillion. 
  • Funding must be used strategically, and sequencing matters. 
  • The state needs to develop platforms that are transparent and standardised to build confidence. Once the house is in order, international funds are available. 
  • Eskom does not build transmission stations or substations. It is very important for the private sector to focus, capacitate and implement. 
  • South Africa needs 14 200km of transmission lines by 2033. 
  • In the last decade, only 4 347km of new powerlines were added to the grid, i.e., just over 400km per annum. 
  • This needs to increase to a minimum of 1 500km per annum. 
  • The equipment to build one transmission line costs R20 million. Engineering, procurement and construction companies (EPCs) need certainty that the work is coming, before taking on that financial risk. 
  • In practice, it takes five to seven years to get through all the regulatory hoops and construction challenges to realise grid extensions. 
  • Historically tariffs do not reflect the services and reform is critical. There is a charge for the actual electricity usage (the electrons) and a charge for the cost of the grid itself, i.e., in solar installations the cost of the battery is separate from the cost of the photovoltaic energy used. 

In reimagining the future of Eskom and the grid, beyond loadshedding, Kevin Bloom quoted co-host Professor Mark Swilling: “Anticipating the future, South Africa’s energy system will be unrecognisable compared with the present by the early 2030s. Loadshedding will be a memory, Eskom will have become a transmission business, most coal-fired power stations will have closed down and Eskom’s system operator (SO) – currently located in Germiston – will navigate a much more complex and diverse grid system.”  

Panellists: Chantal Naidoo, executive director and founder of Rabia Transitions Initiatives, Ronald Marais, strategic grid planning manager of Eskom SOC, Mohale Rakgate, chief executive officer of Infrastructure Fund, and Kashif Wicomb, chief executive officer of Adenco Construction. 

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to https://dailymaverick.co.za/ for the information in this editorial.  

For more information, watch the debate online. 

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