Grid access trips up renewable energy sector

Wind turbines. (Peter Dejong, AP, File)
Wind turbines. (Peter Dejong, AP, File)

Cape Town - The rules of the renewable energy game in South Africa are not clear anymore because of grid connection challenges, Hein Reyneke, country manager for Mainstream Renewable Power South Africa, told Fin24 at the wind energy sector's Windaba on Wednesday.

Killian Hagemann of G7 Renewable Energy, explained that during the first two bidding rounds of government's renewable energy independent power producer procurement (REIPPP) programme, there were a lot of "low-hanging fruit" as it was still quick to build and connect to the grid.

Due to grid constraints, new potential renewable projects now have to increasingly deal with issues like the need to build new substations and establishing new powerlines of up to 50km.

According to Killian almost all new grid connections are funded by independent power producers (IPPs) themselves - at no cost to Eskom.

The snag is that the "first mover" in such instances will have to deal with the greater cost of connecting to the grid, he said.

Karen Breytenbach, head of the Department of Energy's Independent Power Producer (IPP) office, admitted that the grid is an issue at the moment.

"We have taken all the low-hanging fruit, so, going forward we will have to address the accessing of the grid," she said.

"We want to see how we can accommodate Eskom going forward. There must, however, be a balance between grid accessibility and where the projects are located as community benefits are also important."

Silas Zimu, special adviser on energy to President Jacob Zuma, said pressure would have to be placed on Eskom to say which parts of the grid cannot take anymore and to provide a design plan for grid connection by renewables.

"All we need is a design. The doers are there. They will do it for Eskom anyway as they use the same subcontractors for the work as the IPPS will use," said Zimu. "We cannot wait until 2018 for this to happen."

Reyneke added that IPPs and developers prefer to build the acess to the grid themselves as it turns out to be "half the cost" than when Eskom does it.

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