South Africa is perfectly positioned to benefit from a shift to solar-generated electricity as it has the best solar resources in the world, bar the Sahara Desert.
This is according to Connie Mulder, head of Solidarity’s research institute, at a Free Market Foundation event.
Mulder said, “We are in a rough patch now, and it will become rougher over the next two to three years.”
The only solution is to get power onto the grid however the country can, as soon as it can.
The private sector and local communities will lead this as Eskom cannot invest in new generation capacity following the debt relief plan tabled in the budget.
According to Mulder, leveraging South Africa’s significant solar resources is the best way to do this.
Solar-generated electricity is advantageous in that it can be connected to the grid within a year and is not confined by grid capacity as it can be embedded in populated areas at a small scale.
Further, South Africa has the best solar resources in the world, excluding the Sahara Desert. Solar systems in Pretoria, for example, can generate 2,239 kWh/m² a year.
Systems in regions of the Northern Cape, such as Nama Khoi, can generate even more power at 2,621 kWh/m².
However, Mulder said solar is still prohibitively expensive for households to set up, which will delay the implementation of decentralised power generation.
The government’s solar tax incentives announced in the budget were a good start but are the absolute bare minimum required to incentivise the mass rollout of solar systems.
A better solution for Mulder would be to implement a feed-in tariff scheme which would pay households and businesses with solar systems for their excess electricity fed into the grid.
Such a scheme, if implemented correctly, would increase the potential return on a solar system investment. This would make installing solar more cost-effective.
Energy analyst Chris Yelland said South Africa is undergoing a two-part electricity revolution.
A shift towards a mix of state and private electricity generation and decentralisation of electricity distribution due to the popularity of rooftop solar.
The first part of the revolution is the radical shift away from a state monopoly on electricity supply to a blend of state and private electricity generation.
This is planned, with the state encouraging private enterprises and households to generate electricity and feed excess back into the grid.
The second part is a consequence of the first: Generation and distribution becoming decentralised.
This is primarily due to businesses and households’ rapid uptake of rooftop solar. Yelland emphasises that this is occurring with little government direction and assistance.
This energy revolution has been driven by load-shedding, which has forced businesses and individuals alike to find alternative sources of electricity.