Gwede Mantashe jolted into action on energy crisis

Mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday he would take steps to develop more electricity- generation capacity as the country buckled under unprecedented load-shedding.

Gwede Mantashe. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Mantashe has the sole authority to procure more generation capacity and to cut through the red tape that is preventing companies and businesses from generating their own energy. But he has so far refused to be rushed, saying he would not be pushed around by “lobbyists” for renewable energy.

With the economy at risk of prolonged load-shedding as Eskom’s capacity continues to deteriorate, Mantashe said that he would call urgently for proposals — by issuing a request for information — on filling the short-term gap.

No progress

He originally announced this in October as an immediate step, but the department has so far made no demonstrable progress. Mantashe said he would also promulgate new determinations under the Electricity Regulation Act, a necessary precursor to the construction of any new generation capacity, public or private.

The fourth bid window for renewable energy projects by independent power producers, which was finally signed in 2018, after being bogged down by political opposition, would be brought on stream earlier, he said. SA would also continue its drive for the use of LPG gas.

Mantashe said he would also meet the National Energy Regulator of SA “to conclude on matters of concurrence so it can assist the ministry respond to the challenges”.

The five interventions named by Mantashe come as Eskom extended stage 4 load-shedding indefinitely. This means it will need to drop 4,000MW from the grid to ensure its stability. As demand is about 25,000MW and Eskom has 45,000MW at its disposal, more than half of Eskom’s plants are not in working order.

The hope expressed in the statement that it was indeed possible to procure generation capacity in the next three to 12 months — such as from barge-mounted electricity plants called powerships — was not realistic, UCT professor Anton Eberhard said on Tuesday.

Eberhard was a member of the Eskom “war room” headed by then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2015. He said that these options had been looked at previously and dismissed.

“I’m sceptical. We tried that in the war room and nothing came of it. Emergency power can be as expensive as $25c/kWh.

“Other than fast-tracking procurements for the medium term, I believe the most effective policy to relieve short-term energy shortages would be to relax licensing requirements for own generation,” Eberhard said.

Nersa allows Eskom a selling price of R1,06/kWh.

Mantashe has been repeatedly urged by business and organised agriculture to free up the process of licensing small-scale embedded generation projects. These are self-generation renewable projects by businesses, mines and farms of between 1MW and 10MW, of which there is now a pent-up supply.

The SA Photovoltaic Association (Sapvia), a nonprofit body promoting the solar electricity industry, said on Tuesday that it believed that 2,000MW could be added to the grid within 12 months through embedded generation. This is equal to two stages of load-shedding. But Nersa takes nine to 12 months to process licensing.

Small-scale projects of up to 1MW  require only municipal or Eskom technical sign off to supply their owners or feed into the grid. Sapvia said that the distinction between these projects and those up to 10MW “is arbitrary” and licensing provisions for up to 10MW should be relaxed.

The second-quickest way to bring new generation capacity on board is to procure wind and solar power from independent power producers. Only 5% of Eskom’s energy capacity comes from renewable energy sources.

New projects can be constructed in two years, says the industry. This is far quicker than options such as coal, which now also face resistance from financiers. For this to happen, Mantashe must make a section 35 determination under the Electricity Regulation Act.


Source: TMG Digital

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