After being substantially weakened by accusations of corruption, South Africa’s national energy supplier has agreed to contracts with a number of independent power producers (IPPs). This has come after the agreements were delayed by a challenge from the Coal Transporters Forum which sought to block the signing of these power purchase agreements (PPAs).
Not only will these new agreements help distribute the production of power between companies and relieve the strain on Eskom, but this is likely to lead to a reduction in blackouts from load shedding and an increase in renewable power resources.
Renewable energy growth
These new PPAs mean that there should be an increased network of distributions, leading to a reduction in localised outages in areas like suburbs. The decentralisation of energy suppliers should lead to an increase in investment in renewable energy sources due to their ability to distribute energy through the grid, helping to reduce South Africa’s dependence on coal.
Across South Africa, homeowners have begun adopting solar panels at a faster rate as they attempt to reduce their dependence on the grid as load shedding continues. Although this is unlikely to cause a significant spike, an increased usage of solar energy is never a bad thing.
As South Africa’s energy struggles through a difficult time, these developments, as well as new forms of energy storage could be the answer that will help relieve stress on the grid and reduce the massive dependence on non-renewable energy sources.
Developments in energy storage
Battery technology hasn’t changed too significantly in the past decade, but new developments and new ways of using old types of batteries could help renewable energy storage become much more efficient and cost effective.
Lithium-Ion batteries (like the ones in mobile phones) currently have an efficiency rate of 99% and a discharge rate of 0.3% per 24 hours of disuse. Discharge rate means the rate at which power stored in the battery is lost when unplugged and unused.
Using lithium-ion for renewable energy storage could help to make storing and distributing renewable energy much more efficient and make it more competitive than coal. Although lithium is an expensive metal, the price is expected to plummet by 60% in the next few years. This could help remove one of the only cons to the technology and advance renewable tech by miles.
As previously mentioned, more South Africans are adopting solar technology as the national grid struggles to keep everybody’s homes lit up. With more South Africans moving from depending on the grid and more independent energy providers receiving investment to explore renewable energy, South Africa’s dependence on coal will continue to fall.
The latest Electricity, Gas and Water Supply Industry report shows that attitudes towards renewable energy have been changing over the past 10 years. The report from 2016 shows that coal has dropped from 88.3% in 2013 to 85.7% in 2016.
Additionally, solar energy didn’t feature in the 2013 survey but now makes up 0.9% of total electricity production. In 2013, wind power contributed 18 GWh but saw an increase to 2126 GWh in 2016. Coal is a readily available and cheap energy source but due to its status as non-renewable, it is vital that the South African economy doesn’t heavily depend on it and makes preparations for its scarcity in the near future.
Although Eskom still suffers from corruption and mismanagement allegations, renewable energy is an economically viable investment in South Africa which could see the energy market completely revolutionised as companies adapt to these technological developments.
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