How Gold Reef City could end load shedding

Cape Town – A lithium battery in your TV so you can watch your favourite show during load shedding; a tax on producing electricity via your rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV); and turning Gold Reef City into a pumped storage hydropower system.

These are some of the outrageous ideas that could become a reality in South Africa.

During a session on energy storage at the SA International Renewable Energy Conference, Barry MacColl, general manager of research, testing and development at Eskom, said battery storage ranges from pumped storage to a tiny lithium battery.

He questioned if consumers should pay Eskom to deliver costly power in the evenings, or if they should buy cheap LED lights fitted with batteries, which could deliver two hours of light. “Your lights won’t go off when you have load shedding,” he said.

“There are TVs with battery storage coming out,” he said. “You would need a 600 watt battery for your TV to survive power outages.

“If the world wants these TVs, (regulators like) Nersa (National Energy Regulator of SA) won’t drive it; the consumer will,” he said.

Gold Reef City could be a hydropower station

Wido Schnabelm of the SA PV Industry Association joked that Treasury might decide to tax consumers benefitting from rooftop solar PVs, but was more serious when he suggested Gold Reef City be turned into a pumped storage hydropower system.

Water is usually pumped high up onto a mountain as a storage mechanism so that when demand peaks, it can be released to create instant hydropower.

“We should combine the mining industry with pumped storage,” he said. “Right in the middle of Johannesburg you have a mine that is 2.5km deep, with 100 metres of water at the bottom.

“We just have to come up with solutions to make that (pumped storage system) work.”

Cedric Philibert, energy and climate change analyst at the International Energy Agency, said that 99% of energy storage in the world occurs through pumped storage hydropower.

He gave the keynote address during this session with a message that renewable energy storage solutions would need to be found beyond 2050.

Philibert said most electricity storage technologies are still too expensive to play a large role on power grids. “Additional research and development is needed to reduce costs,” he said.

“It would be better to increase renewable uptake in buildings, industry and transports than make power 100% renewable,” he said.

* Is the Gold Reef City idea a pipe-dream or a good idea? Tell us why.

* What innovative ideas do you have to store electricity, the main stumbling block to growing renewable energy as a baseload power. Tell us now.

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