Seydou Kane, Managing Director, Eaton Africa

Renewable energy promises to add much-needed capacity to the national grid, with the government increasingly open to new technology in response to Eskom’s woes.

Seydou Kane, managing director at Eaton South Africa explains how storage solutions will help grow the energy mix in South Africa, in response to government’s recently released plans.

The  Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), gazetted in October 2019, emphasizes that South Africa will continue to pursue a diversified energy mix that reduces reliance on limited primary energy resources. While coal remains the primary resource, renewable energy with energy storage presents an opportunity to diversify the electricity mix, to distribute generation, and provide off-grid electricity.

In turn, the plan also affirms that renewable technologies “present huge potential for the creation of new industries, job creation, and localisation across the value chain”.

The complementary relationship between smart grid systems, and energy storage is also highlighted in the IRP, which also notes that renewable energy is not always generated at times of peak demand, but that new energy storage solutions are vital to the South African economy.

The Department of Minerals and Energy notes that it is inundated with requests from companies, municipalities and private individuals for the necessary approvals for distributed (or embedded) generation licenses, and the IRP notes that increasing these approvals could address energy shortages in the medium term.

The Minister of Public Enterprises also released the Roadmap for Eskom 2019, which notes that demand patterns in South African are changing with the availability of more affordable self-generation, energy efficiency and storage technologies.

These developments all combine to indicate a shift beyond traditional energy generation, transmission and distribution models.

A renewed focus on renewables combined with a willingness to entertain self-generation projects less than 10MW (which could provide power for up to 10,000 homes) indicates that the energy sector is primed for innovative energy storage solutions.

Efficient photovoltaic (PV) cells and reliable high-volume storage equipment form part of the successful microgrid at Eaton South Africa’s headquarters in Wadeville, Johannesburg, with the microgrid being an in-use proof point for how microgrids can form the foundation of an effective renewable energy solution for businesses and communities.

A microgrid is a simple, scalable power installation that can provide sufficient power for remote locations, urban communities, campus settings, military and government facilities, critical infrastructure, and commercial and industrial operations using a variety of energy sources, including renewables and stored energy.

Microgrids provide a reliable, efficient solution to unexpected power loss by effectively balancing variations in energy demand, optimising energy usage for more reliable power, reducing operating costs and carbon emissions.

The microgrid in Wadeville includes the first deployment of Eaton’s energy storage system in Africa. It uses second-life electric vehicle batteries to increase resilience, provide higher levels of energy independence, support grid stability and reduce energy costs by up to 40 per cent. A similarly sized microgrid could provide energy for 230 community homes.

South Africa is looking to increase its share of renewable from less than 10% currently to over 25% by 2030. As Eskom contributes 95% of the country’s power, its ability to develop viable renewable projects is crucial.

In October 2018, the national utility announced plans to develop a 1440MWh (or 525 million kWh a year) battery energy storage system (BESS) spread across 90 sites. As South Africa consumes an estimated 207 billion kWh a year, this storage system will be crucial in supporting and maximising renewable projects, as well as adding much-needed flexibility to the grid.

Instead of having to closely match generation with seasonal demand, any excess power produced, whether from fossil fuels or renewable sources, will be stored for later use. Conversely, when generation capacity is low, whether due to equipment failure or maintenance, stored power can be used to fill the gap.

The most important challenges these technologies address include an ageing grid, transmission congestion and connecting renewable sources (wind and solar) to the grid.

As we move from an ageing unautomated grid to an efficient and completely modern digitised grid (which raises the need for cyber security), the network also needs to proactively focus on rapidly changing technology such as mass storage and renewables. Data and analytics hold the key to transforming businesses and lay the groundwork for the Smart Grid of tomorrow, leveraging system intelligence to drive efficiency, reliability and productivity.