Former Eskom manager Matthew Cruise warned that load-shedding would worsen in South Africa and continue for ten years.
Cruise, who now serves as head of business intelligence and public relations at Hohm Energy, said load-shedding intensity could double over the next five years.
He pointed to a study from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research about constraints on the transmission grid.
These constraints prevent many renewable energy projects from feeding into the grid because of capacity constraints in the northern part of the country.
Scatec Sub-Saharan Africa GM Jan Fourie said Eskom’s grid is becoming the bottleneck, especially in areas with wind and solar resources.
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 in the country.
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 solar and wind projects.
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,” Fourie said.
The grid constraints mean that renewable energy cannot reach its full potential in South Africa to provide the needed capacity to eliminate load-shedding.
Cruise said Eskom has been struggling to get adequate funding for grid expansion for years, aggravating the problem.
Fourie added 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.
Because of Eskom’s grid capacity constraints, especially regarding renewable energy, Hohm Energy believes load-shedding will be with South Africa for the next ten years.
Cruise predicts increased load-shedding for the next five years, peaking in 2028 with average stage 7 power cuts.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa also highlighted the challenges regarding grid capacity in a recent media briefing.
“The expansion and the strengthening of the grid is going to require an inordinate amount of money,” Ramokgopa said.
“The Eskom balance sheet is not in a position to finance the required expansion. Eskom will have to think creatively to devise a solution.”
The Minister said they need around R500 billion to expand the grid to create adequate capacity to serve the country’s future needs.
The problem with this is that there is very little investor confidence in Eskom, meaning it is unlikely to receive the funding without another government bailout.
Another hurdle to investing in its transmission infrastructure is that the bailout conditions prohibit Eskom from taking on more debt without Treasury permission.