Eskom 2.0: Stick to the plans you already have and subsidise solar for households

Government should move from subsidising the fossil-fuel industry to subsidising households to install solar systems. Photo: Growthpoint Properties
Government should move from subsidising the fossil-fuel industry to subsidising households to install solar systems. Photo: Growthpoint Properties


There’s no need for another state-owned enterprise in the energy generation, transmission and distribution landscape.

This is what energy expert Professor Sampson Mamphweli from the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University said about President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Energy Gwede Mantashe’s plans to establish a new energy-generation company.

The professor says government should stick to plans they already have in place.

“The department of public enterprises in 2019 published a plan to unbundle Eskom into generation, transmission and distribution to ensure that the various companies can be run efficiently, independent of each other.”

READ: Eskom has big power plans

Mamphweli said the plan already talked to the competition element, which Mantashe and the president said Eskom 2.0 would help with.

“Transmission would introduce competition through buying from various providers, such as IPPs (Independent Power Producers) and Eskom generation.”

The professor added that establishing new power generations was not going to be an overnight thing. He said:

By the time they finish setting up the new company, the generation capacity challenges we have would be resolved.

Mamphweli explained that the already set out long-term interventions that were centred around the Integrated Energy Plan - where the government was procuring additional generational capacity - should ensure that within the next two-to-three years, we have enough generation capacity in the network.

Greenpeace Africa’s Nhlanhla Sibisi agrees with Mamphweli. The climate and energy campaigner said government should stick to breaking the monopoly Eskom had on generation, transmission and distribution.

Sibisi added these three components would help Eskom gain more independence.

“It is not that Eskom doesn’t have the capacity.” He said:

We find ourselves in this situation because of the mismanagement that we have seen in the last couple of years and the lack of strategic direction.

What can be done right now

Sibisi said that government should not wait for the unbundling process to conclude but start now with IPPs.

“They should give IPPs opportunities to produce renewables. IPPs have the capacity and the will to fund renewables. The processes can be done in parallel.”

Mamphweli added that there were other steps government could take to help alleviate the current situation in the short term.

Battery storage

“Government needs to run models looking at the impact of having additional battery storage on the grid and do a cost-benefit analysis of such an intervention,” Mamphweli advised.

“We know what load shedding costs the economy, it is in the billions. We need to look at the costs of adding something like 3 000MW to 5 000MW battery storage facility versus what load shedding is costing the economy.”

READ: Mpiyakhe Dhlamini | Right to dignity: Leave us alone with our coal stoves, Jojo tanks and solar panels

Battery storage facilities like the one Australia opened in December 2021 can help prevent load shedding.

“Additional energy that usually is available during the day from solar energy production in the network, at some point, that energy gets curtailed because there’s not much demand for it. Instead of curtailing that energy, the battery storage facilities would take it and store it to use for when the system is under strain.”

Energy efficiency demand side management programme

Mamphweli said there needed to be an energy efficiency audit that would look at the big energy consumers, check for inefficiencies, address those and therefore lessen the load on the system.

“The programme can also be extended to households.

“When Eskom went on a drive to replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, they were able to save over 1 000MW.”

Finalise regulations on small-scale generation

Mamphweli and Sibisi agreed that government should finalise the regulations on small-scale generation.

Mamphweli said clear regulations need to be set up to allow people to use the grid as an energy-storage system too.

“During the day, household systems would pump back unused energy into the grid. When they need the energy at peak hours, they just draw on the energy that they fed the systems,” Mamphweli stated.

The professor added this would encourage people to install solar systems.

Battery packs are usually the most expensive components in getting solar backup systems; 4.8kWh packs that are recommended for the average household cost around R30 000.

With households using the grid as storage, there would be no need for battery systems. Sibisi said:

Government should move from subsidising the fossil-fuel industry to subsidising households to install solar systems.

“Subsidising solar systems would speed up the uptake of mini-grids.” 

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