Mass small-scale power generation can end loadshedding in a year – SRI

Adding thousands of decentralised small-scale power generation projects to the grid could end loadshedding within the next year. Head of the Solidarity Research Institute (SRI), Connie Mulder, told BizNews’ Michael Appel they will be entering the generation space within the 100MW licence exemption threshold to sell power to end consumers, and he encourages thousands of others to do the same. Waiting on large-scale commercial projects to come to Eskom’s rescue over the next few years will doom the country to even darker days ahead. Mulder is technologically agnostic and doesn’t care how electricity is generated, only that it’s being generated. The inspiration for the approach the SRI is advocating for comes from Vietnam. It’s a country that found itself in a similar loadshedding scenario to South Africa at the end of 2007. It opted for generous feed-in tariffs allowing small-scale solar power producers to supply the grid with simple rooftop projects. Vietnam added 4,500MW in the first year, and 9,000MW in 2019/20. He’s adamant that the South African government cannot or will not solve the electricity crisis, so it’s up to small-scale generators of power to bring an end to the crisis.

Connie Mulder on how bad is the electricity issue we find ourselves in

Although it’s bad at the moment, it’s still better than next year is the best description that I’ve got. At the moment, we’re sitting with a 46,000 megawatt capacity or generation shortfall, but this is only going to get worse as time continues. For the simple reason Eskom needs to decommission several of its coal fired plants, the average age of a coal fired plants, excluding Medupi and Kusile, is 41 years now. A coal fired plant generally has a 50 year lifetime, so we’re nearing the end of Eskom’s, almost their whole coal fired fleet, and we’ve got nothing in the pipeline to replace it. If you trust the government, absolutely nothing. So Eskom needs to decommission ten and a half thousand megawatts of coal fired generation in the next eight years and 22,000 megawatts. 

That’s more than a half of their coal fired plants in the next 13 years. Now to sort of get the capacity replaced somehow we’ve got the integrated resource plan that Minister Mantashe published in 2019. But this plan is a strong word. It’s more a work of fiction which relies on several miracles happening, for example, if we do everything absolutely perfectly now with any government project, that’s not a given everything absolutely perfectly. And a couple of things happened there. One is the Grand Hydro Hydroelectrical Scheme, which has no funding and hasn’t really been constructed, starts exporting energy, electricity magically, although nothing seems to realize. Or if the sun shines 24 hours a day and the wind blows 24 hours a day, then we’ll make it. 

On whether the 82,000 megawatts that Andre de Ruyter proposed is inadequate in terms of economy and population size over the next decade or so

If we are talking about growth at all, we need a lot more capacity than we have at the moment, honestly, and there is absolutely no way that this is going to happen through large commercial scale projects. That’s why it’s not adequate to only have 82,000 megawatts, especially because renewables do not have a capacity factor of 80% or 90%, and solar is closer to 30% in good situations whereas South Africa has very good solar resources. So we should be close to 30% and wind is close to 40%. That’s on the renewable side. We’re basically much more technologically agnostic regarding this. We don’t really care how power gets into the grid. We care that power gets into the grid and then it gets into the grid from decentralised, small scale generators, which is the only way we’re going to get close to adding 68,000 megawatts in 13 years and even more. 

In South Africa after 15 years, we need to face the facts and look in the mirror. The political will does not exist here to solve well, to solve load shedding, at least not from the ANC. And that means we need to go and find the political will somewhere else. And that’s where we are coming in and saying, but if we’ve got the political will to solve this, we’ve got the will to solve this. Of course, we don’t want to be stuck in the dark with an economy that’s going back to the Middle Ages. And that is why we’ve now announced we think a feed in tariff is the right thing. But if the government doesn’t announce it, we think they are going to get stuck on giving tenders to their comrades with it, because we’d much rather say we’re just going to start entering the generation space and selling space and we urge people to do the same. 

On flooding the South African labour market with IPPs

So it’s not only IPPs we’re going for on commercial projects, we’re even saying every school, every mall, every farmer apply for a permit to distribute and sell power and flood. As I said, we can flood open these bottlenecks. Approving 16 projects of less than ten megawatts a month is not going to solve this at all. We need hundreds or thousands of small scale generators. And we’ve got a property development company, Kanton, which built Saltech. And we’re going through them, we’re saying, but we’re going into the power generation space as a trade union. It’s literally the best thing we can do for our members to try and secure electricity stability. And the only way to do that at the moment is to get involved in generation, to make sure that we go through the process. And obviously we’re looking at if any, anything is unduly burdensome or it doesn’t make sense or it’s irrational. We’ve got a long history of successful litigation. And that is that as we’re going through this process to start generating power, selling it because of adjustments and it’s necessary. But if we get hit by any bottlenecks that can be solved with litigation, we’re going to be on that as quickly as possible to sort of plough open the way and make sure that we’ve got this floodgate of small scale generation, which is the only way that we’re going to solve this problem. 

On how long the energy crisis can go on for and if stage six is becoming the new normal

If we do nothing, then quite frankly, a couple of years back, stage four was almost unthinkable. It was stage two at worst. Now we’re in the situation where stage two is a go to, if something breaks. We’re at stage six and stage four is now rapidly becoming something that we are grateful for, which is absurd. Is that grateful? It’s only about 4 hours a day. That is complete madness. If we take the right decisions and that is where the ball gets passed to the government is if we make the right decisions. If we look at Vietnam’s example, we’ve got more capital, we’re a much richer country, we’ve got more expertise, Vietnam had to import some of our skills. Some of the guys who worked at Eskom went to Vietnam to solve their problems. We’ve got the skills. If we make the right decisions, we can realistically get loadshedding down by almost 97, 98% in a year. That’s the absurdity – we’re sitting on the solution and we’re refusing to do it. If we really start getting a small-scale power generation sector that explodes, that’s creating hundreds of thousands of jobs directly and millions indirectly, because suddenly we’ve got an economy that has energy stability. At the moment it’s the number one factor that’s holding back South Africa.

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