More people need to put in place embedded and micro power generation

Cape Times
Tuesday, 17 February 2015

David Lipschitz
​Portfolio head of energy
Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance

More and more people, including MP’s interviewed after President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, are asking about the chance of a nationwide electricity blackout. Such a blackout would be a catastrophe because of no water pumped, no fuel, no transport, fridges and freezers stopping to work, and after a few hours or perhaps two days, riots and civil war as people look for water and food.

The national electricity grid is about R100 billion behind on maintenance, so that means that the chance of sections of the grid going down are relatively big, as compared with there being no grid maintenance backlog.

The chance of all the power stations going down at the same time gets bigger and bigger as Eskom does less and less maintenance.

But recently, it has realised that it has to initiate load shedding so that it can do maintenance work.

I just pray that it is taking down enough of the power stations for long enough to do the required maintenance. I’d rather have four hours of load shedding a day and no chance of a blackout than 2.5 hours of load shedding a day and the chance of dying in two days time.

But there is a silver lining to the crisis.

People are installing generators, whether they are petrol, diesel, gas or renewable energy. As people and companies become self-reliant, the grid becomes more stable and the chance of a mass blackout gets less. As this is happening, more people are installing pool covers and water tanks, which also protect the need for water.

Meanwhile, Eskom has finally come to the party and asked businesses with private generators to register themselves on an Eskom database. It pays for these businesses to be part of its system, and sometimes asks these businesses to turn their generators on to prevent load shedding. In this case, Eskom pays for all or part of the cost of running the generators. But Eskom still don’t want these businesses to reverse-feed the grid, so an opportunity is still being missed.

Resilience is built into the system. If only the government (ANC and DA) would allow reverse-feed, homeowners and shopping centres and other people installing generators (of any kind) could provide excess electricity into the grid, stabilising it even more.

Eskom has said for decades that embedded generators destabilise the grid, but this is plainly untrue. Turkey has confirmed the country’s wind turbines have stabilised the grid. The US is installing more embedded generators, because this provides resilience and stabilises the grid and, therefore, the economy.

So the more people, businesses, shopping centres, industry and mines take responsibility for micro and embedded generation, the better for all South Africans poor and rich.

And if Eskom puts up electricity by 24% in July, private homeowners who install battery based systems might actually be able to save money on their electricity needs.

And, of-course, these homeowners aren’t effected by load-shedding, except perhaps for cooking and heating elements, but even those might be economically powered come July.

From a City of Cape Town point of view, imagine if the DA had followed through and allowed Feed In Tariffs in 2009 and Net Metering in 2011. Cape Town would not be affected by load shedding, we would have the head offices of businesses based in Johannesburg moving to Cape Town, and the Western Cape would be booming, sustainably.


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