Eskom’s transmission grid currently has a 14,000 km expansion backlog, which South Africa desperately needs to be able to connect more renewable energy projects in the country’s coastal areas.
This is feedback from Professor Sampson Mamphweli of the South African National Energy Development Institute, who told 702 that this backlog must be tackled urgently for the country to end load-shedding.
Mamphweli’s comments come on the back of Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s announcement that Eskom needs to build 6,000 km of transmission lines in the next three years.
This is far beyond what is currently forecasted to be 1,400 km over the next three years.
Ramokgopa said Eskom and, subsequently, the new National Transmission Company of South Africa (NTCSA) would be much quicker in building new transmission infrastructure to connect more megawatts to the grid.
Mamphweli said South Africa’s Cape provinces, in particular, need new grid capacity as that is where the country’s best renewable resources are.
He estimated that around 3,200 MW worth of projects have not been able to connect to the grid due to the lack of capacity in those provinces.
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.
The government and Eskom were warned about the need to expand grid capacity across the country in the 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy.
However, Eskom’s focus shifted then to building new generation capacity at Medupi and Kusile, which were both hit by several delays and cost overruns/
This led to the government and Eskom waking up far too late to the need to add capacity to the grid, and it severely weakened the utility’s ability to fund such a rapid expansion.
Eskom has belatedly drawn up a transmission development plan to tackle this problem, requiring hundreds of billions of rands to build infrastructure nationwide.
The utility aims to build 14,000 km of transmission lines over the next decade, costing an estimated R372 billion.
However, this amount has increased substantially as the private sector has begun rolling out large-scale renewable energy projects in areas with little to no grid capacity.
The utility has said it will need an additional R100 billion in the 2025 financial year to execute its transmission development plan. This amount will increase annually to R170 billion in 2029.
Mamphweli said the utility and even the government, with its poor finances, do not have the balance sheet to fund such an expansion. It will have to turn to the private sector.