Renewable energy projects in South Africa cannot connect to the grid because of a lack of grid capacity and chronic underinvestment by Eskom.
General manager for Scatec in Sub-Saharan Africa Jan Fourie explained to Newzroom Afrika what is preventing the company from connecting its solar farms in the Western Cape to Eskom’s grid.
Three of the company’s projects at Grootfontein in the Western Cape reached financial close at the end of June.
However, construction can only start in the first quarter of next year, with the projects only being completed and providing electricity to the grid in 2025.
This is mostly due to delays in getting grid connection approval from Eskom. The delay is not financial, planning, or construction – but rather a lack of grid capacity.
Fourie said that all the company can do now is wait for the Eskom process to run its course.
“The grid is becoming the bottleneck, especially in high-resource areas with wind and solar resources.”
He admitted that building transmission lines to large renewable projects far outside major metropolitan areas is extremely difficult as they must cross private and public land.
There is simply a lack of electricity infrastructure in these areas due to the design of Eskom’s grid and chronic underinvestment in the grid.
Fourie explained that South Africa’s grid is designed to carry electricity from large, central power stations in the country’s northeast to other parts.
Renewable energy generation is decentralised, with generation facilities located almost anywhere.
The areas, such as the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape, which have rich renewable resources, do not have the grid capacity to distribute electricity to the rest of the country.
The grid in these areas can only carry limited load, which is insufficient for large-scale projects such as Scatec’s.
Fourie believes that Eskom cannot expand the grid by itself due to its financial constraints and track record with large infrastructure projects.
Independent Power Producers (IPPs) already build the grid connection facilities for their projects and then transfer them to Eskom once completed.
The private sector is also willing to commit large amounts of capital to expand the grid and will be able to do so much quicker than Eskom.
The policy is already in place for such partnerships to occur. It just has not been implemented.
Fourie warned that regardless of whether the private sector gets involved, expanding the grid will take time as there is no quick fix and transmission lines are not easy to build.