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What would South Africa look like powered 100% by renewable energy?
April 26, 2019  

Supplied by Minx Avrabos from SAIEE

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is loath to lend funds to utilities and governments that want to build coal power plants. And, according to the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, over the next 10 years Eskom will close four power stations, or 8800MW of installed capacity, which will cost 30,000 direct jobs and have a multiplier effect of potential loss of 70,000 indirect jobs mainly in the transport and storage sectors. 

The team at Genergy, have gazed into their crystal balls to see what South Africa might look like powered 100% by renewable energy because it’s clear South Africa needs a renewable power solution. Genergy believes that Eskom must be allowed to develop its own renewable energy resources in competition with others operating in the same field. And if the government wants to subsidise renewable energy, Eskom should get the same advantage.

So, if Eskom was allowed to develop its own renewable energy resources and more private organisations invested in the renewable power generation: what would South Africa look like powered 100% by renewable energy?

 

1. Big on wind and solar

In future, the bulk of our electricity will come from the most affordable technologies: wind and solar photovoltaic (PV). In areas with the best renewable resources, big wind and solar projects connected to transmission lines will generate electricity to power South Africa’s industry, transport, cities and exports.

Modelling by Genergy suggests that solar and wind generation could supply up to 90% of South Africa’s electricity needs, with the remaining 10% generated by smaller and more experimentalrenewable energy sources as technological developments allow. South Africa’s best solar irradiance is in the country’s Northen Cape and its coastal regions have the highest wind potential. These renewable energy zones already have some investment in transmission and distribution, but further investment is required to harvest these amazing resources. 

 

2. Many technologies in many locations

We’re a vast country and solar and wind farms will be spread across the country, sharing their output, because in the rainbow nation, the sun is always shining or the wind is always blowing somewhere.

The supply gaps will then be filled with a range of on-demand renewables and storage, such as concentrating solar thermal with storage, pumped hydro, batteries (grid and domestic), sustainable bioenergy and more.

Hold on… hydropower? Yes,  South Africa is considering doubling the amount of electricity it plans to buy from a proposed multibillion-dollar hydro power plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo[1].

 

3. Small, so everyone can benefit

At Genergy we believe that  a majority of the country’s future energy generation will be local and customer-owned in homes, businesses and communities. This means solar panels on every sunny roof, and batteries in households and commercial buildings. In apartment blocks, there will be microgrids powered by solar and batteries. Renters will join community solar projects and landlords will be required to make properties more energy efficient. When you go to the shopping centre and plug in your electric car, it will be shaded by solar panels.

 

4. Demand is as important as supply

Future electricity use will be much more dynamic. When the sun is shining or a gale is blowing, smart software will send a signal to energy users to turn on their pumps and fill up their batteries.

When wind generation is low, batteries will be signalled to turn on. This is called demand response and can deliver reliable grid electricity and lower energy bills. A win-win.

We will also need to use energy much more efficiently, and more than double productivity. Our houses, buildings, equipment, appliances, transport and industrial processes all need to become more efficient.

 

5. Poles and wires, we’ll build them only when we need them

Our electricity grid will continue to act as an essential service. However, households and businesses will be incentivised to use the local grid infrastructure through revised tariffs and peer-to-peer energy trading.

And while households will draw less electricity from the grid than they do now (thanks to energy efficiency or rooftop solar), the demand for electricity overall will increase as we power up domestic transport and industrial processes, ensuring that the grid we need is affordable for all.

In places where it’s cost effective, edge of grid communities will be slowly taken off the grid. As the poles and wires become too expensive to maintain for a handful of users, these communities will be powered by renewable microgrids and storage.

 

6. Industry and transport go renewable too

As our grid gets cleaner, it makes sense to take the pollution out of our transport and industrial sectors.

Transforming our transport sector to make it powered by 100% renewable energy will also require mode-shifting to greater public and active transport. In future, heavy transport, such as garbage trucks, are likely to be powered by renewable hydrogen.

In the industrial sector, we will see the rise of renewable industry centres where heat-intensive industries can access renewable heat from bioenergy, concentrating solar thermal and renewable hydrogen production. These spaces will also be the key locations for South Africa’s renewable export industries which support countries in the rest of Africa as well as Asia.

 

7. Resilient to extreme weather

While doing our part in cutting pollution helps avert the worst aspects of climate change, we cannot avoid the warming that has already happened. So our future electricity system will have to cope with more extreme weather events. 

If urban and rural areas become ‘islands’ and disconnected from the national grid, areas need sufficient capacity to power themselves as standalone grids for at least six to 12 hours. This creates a more resilient and reliable electricity system, the Danish electricity system operator already does this to better manage its system.

 

Such a transition has engineering and policy challenges that need to be addressed, but with our smartest minds dedicated to the cause, creating an energy system of the future is already under way. The biggest question that remains is this: will we do it at the speed that climate change demands?