Eskom’s big grid headache 

Eskom is facing a big challenge over the next decade in expanding and upgrading South Africa’s national transmission grid, with the utility missing its own targets for the past financial year. 

Eskom currently has a 14,000 km expansion backlog, which South Africa desperately needs to connect more renewable energy projects in the country’s coastal areas. 

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 Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape, which have rich renewable resources, do not have enough 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.

Effectively, the country’s grid will have to be ‘flipped’ around, with the majority of generation capacity coming from the southwest of the country to the major load centre in Gauteng. 

This will not be cheap, with Eskom’s chairperson saying it will need around R350 billion over the next ten years to build sufficient transmission infrastructure. 

Chairperson Mteto Nyati said in an interview with Reuters that Eskom cannot do this alone and will need hundreds of billions of rands from the private sector. 

“We probably need close to R350 billion over the next ten years to build the transmission infrastructure. We do not have, from our own operations, the capacity to fund that,” he said.

The need for Eskom to ‘flip’ its grid is shown in the graphics below.

Spatial load (left) and generation (right) distribution
in Eskom’s transmission grid
Areas suitable for PV (yellow) and wind power plants (green)

Energy analyst Chris Yelland revealed in a social media post that Eskom has missed its own targets for expansion of its grid in the 2023/2024 financial year. 

He said massive challenges lie ahead for Eskom and the new National Transmission Company of South Africa (NTCSA), which is set to take over responsibility for the country’s grid. 

“It is common knowledge that Eskom’s own Transmission Development Plan for the next 10 years requires Eskom to build 1,4000 km of 132 kV, 275 kV, 400 kV and 765 kV transmission lines, or 1,400 km per year for 10 years.” 

Yelland asked Eskom for data on the rollout of transmission lines in the financial year ending 31 March 2024 to compare it with the utility’s stated targets. 

“It turns out that Eskom’s target for 2023/2024 was only 166 km of transmission lines from five projects made up of 126 km of 400 kV and 40 km of 132 kV lines,” he said. 

However, only three of the 400 kV projects, totalling 74.4 km, reached completion in FY 2023/24 but have still not been energised. 88.6 km was not achieved for various reasons.


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