Eskom will support major renewable energy growth in 2021 – Koko

Cape Town - Acting Eskom CEO Matshela Koko said the power utility will support major growth in the renewable energy sector from 2021, when he believes prices will come down and make the energy source more attractive.

Speaking exclusively to Fin24 on Thursday, Koko said he believes renewable energy should be developed at a scale and pace the utility and country can afford – a line first used by President Jacob Zuma in 2016 to explain the planned nuclear new build plan.

Koko’s view is that after 2021, the country should “build as much renewable as possible because they will be cheap”.

However, he does not believe renewable energy alone can rule the Eskom grid, as it requires a “stable grid”.

“Based on what renewable energy costs are doing, beyond 2022, is the time to build a lot of renewables because that will be when surplus capacity disappears,” he said.

Koko and Eskom have been critical of renewable energy recently, saying this week that it costs the South African economy R9bn a year.

“This net loss to the economy will continue for as long as there is surplus capacity,” the power utility said in a statement this week. “Eskom currently has surplus capacity until 2021 and can meet any increase in demand.”

Koko said it would be wise to pay for the cheapest capacity you can get.

“You cannot hold back to build renewables, given what the prices are doing. You have to build as much as you can and have a stable grid.”

South African Renewable Energy Council (Sarec) chairperson Brenda Martin welcomed Koko’s view. “I am very glad to hear that Eskom’s acting chief executive is interested in considering rational options for our energy future,” she told Fin24 on Friday.

For Koko, the debate should be a scientific one and should focus on what can balance renewables to have a stable grid.

“I don’t believe you can build renewables alone and have stable grid,” he said. “We will need to partner with gas as a flexible source or bring in a combination of gas and nuclear.

“It is a cost issue,” he said.  “We will know how much nuclear will cost in current nuclear inquiry.”

Eskom has published its request for information for 9.6 GW of nuclear energy, with countries like Russia, France and China vying for the deal.

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