Sapvia refutes Minister’s blame on renewables for load-shedding

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia) refutes Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s claim that underperforming renewable power stations caused severe load-shedding. Sapvia CEO Rethabile Melamu clarified that renewable energy, especially solar PV, played a crucial role in preventing further escalation. Despite Ramokgopa highlighting increased planned maintenance as positive, independent analysts like Pieter Jordaan argue it hampers generating capacity improvement. The disagreement underscores the complex challenges in balancing energy needs and grid reliability in South Africa.

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By Hanno Labuschagne

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia) has hit back at electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s claims that underperforming renewable power stations contributed to last weekend’s severe load-shedding.

During a media briefing on Sunday, Ramokgopa said that non-performing renewables were among the factors that caused the escalation of load shedding to stage 6.

All of Eskom’s solar power and the vast majority of its wind power comes from independent power producers (IPPs), including members of Sapvia.

These IPPs have an installed power capacity of around 6,000MW, including around 2,200MW contributed by PV solar and 500MW by concentrated solar power.

According to the industry body, the minister’s assertion about renewable underperformance leading to stage 6 was not a true reflection of reality.

Sapvia CEO Rethabile Melamu said the organisation held the minister in the highest respect and said he had an important role in guiding South Africa towards an energy-secure future.

“We believe he deeply understands the role that various energy types play in the realisation of this dream, and it is for this reason that we wish to factually correct his statements,” said Melamu.

Sapvia pointed to Eskom’s own statements on the causes of the load-shedding increase on Saturday — it had lost ten generating units, leading to a huge shortfall in capacity.

Nine of those generating units, contributing 4,400MW, were taken out of service due to boiler tube leaks.

This led to 17,798MW of breakdowns, while the capacity out of service for planned maintenance was 6,653MW.

Rethabile Melamu, Sapvia CEO

Melamu said the minister’s comments at the weekend misrepresented the role that renewable energy, and particularly solar PV, had to play in the nation’s energy mix.

“When stage 6 was announced late Saturday evening, total renewable production was 1,661MW, more than double the total production during the same hour the previous week, when load-shedding was at stage 2,” Sapvia stated.

“Furthermore, the total wind and solar PV production was 95% of the average hourly renewable production for the period from 28 January to 11 February, a 360-hour period.”

“Without the renewable energy production, stage 7 or 8 would likely have been implemented.”

She said the average hourly renewable production between 7 February and 11 February was 2,098MW.

Melamu said she looked forward to an opportunity to engage directly with the ministry to ensure an accurate reflection of solar PV’s contribution to the grid.

“Calculated risks” on planned maintenance

While Ramokgopa mentioned renewable underperformance as one of the factors worsening load-shedding, he also said Eskom had to take “calculated risks” in its planned maintenance strategy.

He maintained that long-term improvements to the grid required increased maintenance that risked clusters of units failing in short order.

“We accepted that to be an inherent risk in our strategy, but following the fiscal support we have received from the National Treasury, it is our duty to balance short-term and long-term gains,” said Ramokgopa.

“This weekend has been a setback, but we will recover — and over time, these setbacks will become smaller and smaller.”

According to the utility’s latest system status outlook, it aimed to take down 9,294MW of capacity for planned maintenance in the sixth week of 2024 (6 February 2024 to 13 February 2024).

This had declined to 6,653MW Saturday’s evening peak demand period but was still higher than the 5,081MW planned for the same week in 2023.

In other words, this explanation appears to make sense.

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, Minister of Electricity

However, independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan recently told BusinessTech that Eskom’s current maintenance regime was undoing the positive movements in generating capacity, such as Kusile’s units coming back online.

Although planned maintenance is higher than in any year before, it is also keeping units offline for longer.

While Ramokgopa presents increased planned maintenance as a big positive, Jordaan said Eskom struggled to bring units back to power after being taken offline for repairs.

He argued that the unusually high planned maintenance levels were due to an inability to return units as planned, which technically meant they had become unplanned breakdowns.

“If accounted for as such, unplanned capacity load factors would likely reflect as 34.1%, higher than the same time in 2023, and the ‘pure’ planned capacity loss factor as 13.6% — in-line with past trends,” he said.

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This article was first published by MyBroadband and is republished with permission

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