Eskom’s showroom example of how it plans to transition from carbon-intensive energy generation to low-carbon generation at Komati Power Station is facing several delays.
Professor Sampson Mamphweli from the South African National Energy Development Institute explained to SABC what the project is and why it is so important that it is successful.
Komati was commissioned as a coal-fired power plant in the 1960s and, after being mothballed for two decades, was restarted in 2008 when South Africa first experienced load-shedding.
Last year, the power station was decommissioned and selected by Eskom, the government, and the World Bank as the site where South Africa’s Just Energy Transition could begin.
The coal power station was set to be converted into a renewable generation hub with solar and wind farms in its surroundings.
This is the first such project in South Africa and is seen as crucial in providing an example of how the country can transition to renewables while creating jobs.
The government plans to use Komati as a model that can be replicated across other ageing coal-fired power plants set to be decommissioned soon.
“The success of this project is of paramount importance going forward,” Maphweli said, as it is the showroom example of the Just Energy Transition in action.
Eskom plans to leverage the existing distribution and transmission infrastructure at Komati as a cheap way to connect renewable energy to the grid.
The utility is plagued by grid capacity constraints in other parts of the country where large-scale renewable projects are planned.
However, the trade-off is that renewable generation is much less efficient in Mpumalanga than in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape, where there is more wind and sunshine.
As part of the transition, a training centre in collaboration with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) will be established to reskill Komati’s workforce to work as solar and wind energy technicians.
This is already up and running, according to Mamphweli, along with a manufacturing facility for mini-grids which can be distributed to small communities in remote areas of the country.
But, multiple issues still need to be ironed out before the renewables at Komati can contribute energy to the grid.
There are several delays with the construction of the solar and wind farms surrounding Komati and the conversion of the plant’s generating units to synchronous condensers to ensure the renewables do not destabilise the grid.
Mamphweli admitted that the project would not be completed in time.
There are also debates among policymakers as to whether Komati should not just be refired as a coal-fired power plant to address the intense load-shedding the country is experiencing in the short term.
Mamphweli said there are no plans to stop the project, despite its delays and questions from some policymakers about the Just Energy Transition.
Terms and conditions for the funding from the World Bank are also yet to be fully signed off. Mamphweli did not give further details about the funding agreement with the Bank.