Durban to sell power to the grid

2014-06-24 00:00

ETHEKWINI households could be turned into miniature power stations pushing out energy onto the power grid.

If the city is given the go-ahead by South African energy regulator Nersa, Durban could be a trailblazer in delivering clean renewable energy to the metropolitan’s grid from the rooftops of suburban homes.

The city is expected to launch its residential off-set programme on July 1 when the new electricity tariffs come into effect.

Wealthier residents are expected to be among the first to climb onto the power generating train due to the large cash outlay for the expensive technology, but industry insiders have confirmed that financing models have already been created — opening up doors for middle-income households to slash their household energy costs.

Chief electrical engineer at the eThekwini electricity unit Leshan Moodliar said the ambitious programme is a “risk we are willing to accept”, but added a multitude of “technical studies” still need to be explored.

“There is a massive uptake for this type of energy in Europe but with this comes plenty of regulations, standards and safety. We are infusing risk onto the grid. There is massive risk [to our infrastructure and staff] but it is very exciting,” said Moodliar.

According to a document called “Residential Embedded Generation Tariffs” on the city’s website, imported energy will be “off-set against exported energy at a ratio of 1:0,65”. It continues to say that exported energy will only be off-set “to a maximum of the imported energy” and any excess exported energy will be “forfeited [and] no carry-overs are allowed”.

Households will have two meters — one to measure export and another to measure imported energy.

“Nine out of 10 times there will be no cost to the resident charged by the city to be included onto the off-set programme, but they will need to follow a pre-set application and application process and use equipment of an acceptable quality,” said Moodliar.

Projects already exist in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and parts of Cape Town.

Meanwhile, industry sources have warned the public to be cautious of fly-by-night energy saving companies selling sub-standard equipment with little or no guarantee.

The city currently has 670 000 households drawing power and a further 350 000 with no electricity at all. Durban currently consumes 1 700 mW, which is dropping at about one percent a year. The city power grid also supplies 900 bulk energy customers and 45 000 small businesses.

In 2010, the municipality took a “strategic decision” to position itself as a regional hub for renewable energy production in the South African Development Community (SADC).

In a 2011 document focusing on wind generation technology opportunities, it said the city intends to “identify and develop large scale renewable energy generation opportunities”.

James Shirley from Schneider Electric said: “In South Africa, the largest uptake for renewable energy products have been the upper income earners who can afford the initial payment but see the long-term savings and those in rural areas who cannot wait for electrification. The middle-income group are less likely as they don’t have the immediate cash.”

Shirley said it was fantastic what Durban was doing and hoped it would encourage Johannesburg to follow suit.

Greg Wenzler, owner of Tasol Solar in KwaZulu-Natal, which is franchised throughout the country, said every house’s saving would depend on the usage.

“An average household in Durban uses about 800 kW in a month, although areas such as Umhlanga are much higher from 1 400 kW upwards. The number of solar panels you have will also depend on the space on your roof, while other dynamics such as where you obtain sunlight will also play a part. On average, a household receives peak sunshine for about four and a half hours,” he said.

He said as part of their strategy they offer terms of payment for the installation of solar energy to reach a wider market. “The photovoltaic solar panels we offer have a 50-year life span and only lose 15% of their effectiveness after 30 years. This is a long-term investment.”

Solar power plant benefits

A JOINT study published in a leading science journal has revealed that connecting concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could supply a significant amount of current electricity demand.

Published in Nature Climate Change, researchers from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, Stellenbosch University, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) found the CSPs could provide a sustainable and reliable power supply.

The institute said CSP technology uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate light from the sun, which it converts into heat to power a turbine and produce electricity.

The researchers simulated the construction and operation of connected CSP systems in four regions around the world: the Mediterranean, South Africa, India and the United States. The simulations took account of weather variation, such as solar radiation, surface temperature and wind, as well as plant location, electricity demand and costs.

It added that results of the study showed that in the Mediterranean region, for example, a connected CSP system could provide 70-80% of current electricity demand at costs comparable to other technologies that provide a stable power supply.

“This is comparable to energy production levels of a standard energy production plant, such as a nuclear plant,” said the statement.

IIASA researcher Fabian Wagner said: “To address climate change, we need to greatly expand our use of renewable energy systems. The key question, though, is how much energy renewable systems can actually deliver. Our study, which is the first to systematically assess how you would operate a fleet of CSP plants, shows that CSP offers massive potential as a reliable renewable energy source.”

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