South Africa’s large coal-fired power stations are predominantly located to the north, but renewable energy IPPs are generating ever larger amounts of electricity in very different regions (wind farms are concentrated in the Western and Eastern Cape and solar parks in the Northern Cape).
The way in which the energy market is developing means that new grid infrastructure is critical to transmission from growing production areas to economic development hubs. Potential nuclear power stations along the South African coast line and the development of natural gas resources could further reverse the traditional flows of power and increase the magnitude of the corridors needed to transport electricity.
The need for such development is urgent. The challenges faced by IPPs include obtaining reliable data on the available capacity of the grid for the connection of their projects and how to deal with the constraints which a lack of capacity place on site location. As was aptly put by Karén Breytenbach, Head of the Department of Energy’s IPP Office, at the 9th Annual Powering Africa Conference:
“The grid is far more important than initially understood, it cannot be ignored.”
Eskom has now developed a powerful tool it calls the interactive spatial map, designed to guide stakeholders in determining available grid capacity. This interactive PDF document contains a number of different levels of information, which can be toggled on and off on the map (directions on how to use the map are posted on the Eskom website). It includes descriptions of the existing and planned transmission network, the main substation supply areas and the location of successful IPPs from REIPPP rounds 1 to 3.5.
The map also describes five new critical transmission power corridors. The central corridor runs for the first time from the south of the country to the north. Two corridors run along the east and west coasts, while the fourth and fifth include interconnections with Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to accommodate current and forecasted imports and exports of electricity.
Eskom estimates that the thousands of kilometres of transmission lines and infrastructure needed to create these corridors of power will take eight years to construct and cost approximately R213 billion.
Traditionally, this timeframe could be derailed by factors such as protracted negotiations with land owners and very long lead times in obtaining regulatory consents, such as water use licences. To mitigate against this, Eskom has opted for a proactive and innovative approach and has partnered with the Department of Environmental Affairs to assess the environmental impact of construction in an area a 100 kilometres wide for each projected corridor. If reluctant land owners or other obstacles are encountered along the way, the transmission/distribution lines can be re-routed within the buffer zone with no need for new Environmental Impact Assessments.
These expansion plans are truly impressive, yet questions do arise. The obvious ones are whether Eskom can find innovative means to fund the expansion without major tariff increases and to what extent funding-related constraints could delay the infrastructure build? One also has to ask whether the proposed corridors will succeed in linking to South Africa’s anticipated natural gas resources and the REDZs in a manner which supports industry competitiveness (see the CSIR’s Strategic Environmental Assessment for a description of the Renewable Energy Development Zones or REDZs).
Although Eskom’s transmission development plans are definitely a step in the right direction and should bolster investor confidence, there is a lot of work to be done before the infrastructure can be put in place and a lot of discussion still to be had on the best way forward.
The Inside Africa team would like to thank Tammy-Lynne Bekker, Candidate Attorney, for her contribution to this blog post.