Moving the power dial

Plans to improve the electricity infrastructure at KwaDukuza and Mandeni are taking shape, setting the scene for future developments in the local generation and distribution of power in the area.

Moves to improve the efficiency and reliability of the electricity supply in the coastal areas of the iLembe district are being boosted by several developments on the local, national and international front.

The wide range of supportive initiatives were discussed at a “Synergy for Energy” seminar recently held by the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme.

The informal engagement brought together developers and business operators from the private sector and municipal, provincial, and national government participants from the public sector.

The shortage of electricity on the Eskom grid is restricting the performance of local business, industry and municipal infrastructure service operations and is an obstacle to sustaining economic activity and improving growth prospects in the future.

Several measures to improve efficiencies have been implemented by municipalities in the district under the Vuthela Programme. Presentations at the seminar indicated that some of these strategies are starting to move the dial and create efficiencies.

But it was clear that much more will need to be accomplished by the private and public sector working in partnership to achieve a reliable power supply in the district, including the rapid development of local renewable energy solutions to supplement the national Eskom grid. One of the challenges currently is to establish the enabling policy environment that clearly paves the way forward to do this.

In the district:

  • The KwaDukuza Local Municipality is installing a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) system to manage the flow of power through sub-stations in the network by remote switching from a central control room. This will help to create efficiencies in the network and manage the impact of faults and loadshedding better when it is commissioned towards the end of this year.
  • Sections of the overhead electricity supply network in KwaDukuza and ageing underground cables at Mandeni are being upgraded to remove bottlenecks and provide additional transmission capacity.
  • Non-Revenue Electricity (NRE) losses at Mandeni due to billing errors, inaccurate reading, unmetered customers, meter tampering and illegal connections were reduced by 15% last year, compared to the previous year.
  • Strategies to reduce NRE and improve revenue collection include implementing web-based automatic meter reading, auditing electricity resellers, conducting weekly service connection raids and monthly inspections of meters.
  • An energy policy for the KwaDukuza Local Municipality is being drafted and will soon be made available for public comment.

At national level:

  • Over 100 municipalities are partnering with the Embedded Generation Support Programme to implement small-scale energy generation (SSEG) plans. The programme provides municipalities, residents, business owners and other stakeholders with guidance about municipal regulations, tariffs and application processes relating to small-scale generation. About 40 municipalities have already devised feed-in tariffs, enabling them to implement SSEG programmes.
  • Funds are still available from National Treasury for municipalities to improve their energy security. Of the R10-billion available in the Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI) Fund, only R3 billion has been spent. The fund is implemented by the Development Bank of Southern Africa to support the implementation of national priority projects.

On the global front:

  • The World Bank is providing technical assistance and expert advice to several cities in South Africa, aiming to improve the reliability of their local electricity supply.
  • World Bank advisors confirm that renewable energy infrastructure, especially focusing on energy generation, is appropriate for the KwaDukuza Local Municipality and is expected to yield enormous social and economic benefits. There is a need to improve information on electricity services provided in order to report using international best practice and monitor progress to improve services. The World Bank is providing technical and advisory services to the KwaDukuza Local Municipality.
  • The World Bank has supported feasibility studies to augment the Eskom electricity supplied to the Sundumbili Water Treatment Works with solar power to keep the plant running during loadshedding and to introduce solar power at the Isithebe Industrial Estate.

The initiatives already underway at local, national, and international level will enhance prospects for the private and public sector to collaborate on future strategies to improve the reliability of the electricity supply especially in the economic nodes of the KwaDukuza Local Municipality with the wide-scale installation of renewable energy facilities.

Pros and cons of going solar

A technical expert at the “Synergy for Energy” seminar warned that solar energy should not be considered as a “silver bullet” solution that is capable of addressing all the challenges related to supplying electricity.

Although solar energy offered many benefits, there were also significant challenges, said Richard Ahlschlager, Technical Director: Energy, Resources and Manufacturing at Zutari, a private company that provides infrastructure solutions in 35 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Challenges include:

  • The lack of clear regulations and guidelines and the lack of tariffs for wheeling (selling solar-generated power into the Eskom grid).
  • The lack of technical capabilities and sufficient knowledge about the limitations of solar energy.
  • The high initial cost of installing solar power infrastructure.
  • Many municipalities are concerned that renewable energy will be a threat to their revenue base, leaving them with even less resources to develop infrastructure, and leading to a “death spiral”.

Emerging opportunities:

  • No licence is required for embedded generation below the 100 MW limit. The only requirement is that these facilities must be registered.
  • Precincts and sectional title facilities can consider consolidated and amalgamated supplies to save costs.
  • Supplementing the Eskom electricity supply with cost-effective solutions and appropriate tariff structures.
  • Managing the demand on the local network could create efficiencies.
  • Consolidated energy storage facilities and tri-generation, which combines heat, power and cooling solutions through integrated systems, could create energy efficiencies and improve the reliability of the overall network by reducing demand on the network.