At Decentral Energy, we’re excited that 63 solar and 39 wind projects were submitted in bid window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). It’s fantastic to see low-cost, clean energy coming into the grid after a seven-year hiatus. And the massive oversubscription shows just how much potential there is in South Africa for renewables. But several questions need to be answered if our energy transition is to be successful and sustainable.
Balancing the grid
Speaking of the REIPPPP, Decentral Energy Executive Director Luel Culwick has noted:
“The big question over time will become: how do we balance the grid? It’s one thing to have numerous intermittent, variable renewable energy technologies producing low-cost clean energy, but we’ll also need vast amounts of battery storage and/or load-following flexible generation capacity to balance the grid.”
Solar and wind power are not continuously available or predictable. Because electricity is produced and consumed simultaneously, the energy they produce cannot match society’s fluctuating electricity demands. So, this energy must be stored somehow, such as in batteries, until it is needed. But ensuring sufficient storage capacity is costly and challenging in itself.
Another solution is to supplement intermittent renewable energy with more flexible, controllable sources of power, such as gas or pumped hydropower storage. Significantly, Decentral has developed 80 MW of shovel-ready dispatchable hydropower projects. Along with variable renewable technologies, these can play a valuable role in achieving a low-cost and reliable electricity supply via a balanced grid.
Limited transmission capacity
Another question that we must address concerns transmission capacity. This is the infrastructure that moves power from the site of generation to that of consumption. According to the recent GCCA-2023 report by Eskom, one of South Africa’s most renewable-friendly provinces, the Northern Cape, is already running out of capacity in its grid. As a result, there is a limit to the number of new projects that developers can pursue there.
However, we are fortunate that we have abundant renewable energy resources across South Africa. And, in fact, adding generation capacity in other provinces will help to stabilise the grid by ensuring a balance of generation and consumption throughout the country.
Decentralised power: a solution?
At Decentral Energy, we believe that decentralised power can solve both these issues. Decentralised solutions are low cost, low risk, rapid to rollout, require no fiscal investment, and have altogether the lowest potential for regret.
In a decentralised model, generation occurs at or near the site of consumption on a relatively small scale. For example, a shopping centre’s own solar PV panels generate the energy that the centre itself uses. This eliminates the need for added grid capacity. In addition, the centre can solve the problem of intermittent supply by adding battery storage or supplementary diesel generators.
Decentral Energy has experience in developing systems that use both of these technologies. That’s why we can offer our clients energy security through our robust, decentralised clean energy solutions.