Last week Andre de Ruyter, the CEO of Eskom, spoke with determination on what is needed for South Africa to accomplish a just energy transition, commonly referred to as JET.
This transition is in response to market trends and, in my view, precisely what we need regardless of trends and the climate change threat.
The pivot to green energy and the latest innovations – such as 3-D printing of critical parts, smart metering applications and collision avoidance for drones – are changing every aspect of the electricity supply industry (ESI).
What is the excitement all about, though? It is the economic opportunities that the energy transition and innovative technology entering the market can deliver. And these developments can raise the bar on job opportunities— but only if we can clear the path to an all-inclusive JET.
The technology advancements come with many advantages, including real-time demand management, advanced predictive asset maintenance and more accurate billing.
Before getting too ambitious and making plans, note that change is dual-faced and comes with disadvantages.
In bracing South Africa for JET and the green energy transition, there are several areas to address, with some of the most urgent including:
- Electricity tariffs. Originally built and designed on abundant cheap coal-fired power generation, South Africa’s ESI could afford to sell power at a very cheap rate. This pricing structure is unsustainable, and tariffs must, unfortunately, be amended to be cost-reflective and allow for distributed energy resources on the network while not placing anyone at a disadvantage.
- Network resilience. The existing transmission and distribution networks were not built or designed to accommodate the intermittent nature of solar power and wind energy. There are solutions available to bolster the grid against these fluctuations, and each municipality and metro will have to invest in these. The challenge will be finding a solution that best fits the unique supply and demand profiles and not opting automatically for the most affordable.
- Job opportunities. It is essential to assist those currently employed in or reliant on the coal industry to transition as coal-fired power plants are mothballed or repurposed. This socio-economic challenge is not just about jobs. It is also about the families and communities that these jobs support.
According to a recent TIPS report, a just transition is also about taking care of the environment by rehabilitating and repurposing the whole economy to operate in an environmentally sustainable manner for present and future generations.
Have you read?
Link between just energy transition and energy poverty
The policy brief expands on the state of energy access and poverty in South Africa and provides an analysis of the failings of the Free Basic Electricity policy.
It points out that municipalities are inconsistent in managing energy poverty and asks whether a more integrated energy solution approach would not be better in addressing the challenge.
According to de Ruyter, reversing the cycle of deindustrialisation and developing local demand for local goods will create investment and jobs.
South Africa finds itself in a position where it thrives on exporting commodities and relies on imported manufactured goods. One such product is the growing global market for solar modules. Another taking shape is the electric vehicle market.
Therein lies the jobs and the tools to our JET and even municipal service revenue. The economic value is enormous, where jobs in mining, beneficiation, manufacturing and distribution of goods are all conducted through local companies.
While our engineers cannot redesign the ESI from scratch, if we acknowledge that the JET is a physical and social system, we can achieve remarkable progress for all.
Until next week.
Editor, ESI Africa