Battery-based energy storage to accelerate renewable energy take-up

The uptake of large-scale battery-based energy storage will accelerate the implementation of renewable energy technologies and drive the decentralisation of South Africa’s energy system. Furthermore, energy storage, small-scale embedded generation and smart-grid solutions are set to fundamentally transform the country’s electricity landscape.

These statements were made by Thabang Audat, the chief director of energy planning in the Department of Energy, and Thava Govender, Eskom’s outgoing group executive for generation, risk and sustainability in their opening addresses at the recent SA Energy Storage, SSEG and Smart Grid conference and exhibition.

This two-day event, which was hosted by EE Publishers and SAIEE, drew almost 300 delegates to hear 52 presentations in two parallel tracks: Energy Storage and Smart Grids in one two-day conference; and a Small-Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) seminar which took place during the second day in an adjacent auditorium.

Energy storage is considered to be the new wave in the energy sector following on from, and supporting, recent developments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The SA Energy Storage, SSEG, and Smart Grid conference and exhibition, which was held at the Emperors Palace Conference Centre in Ekurhuleni, covered policy, regulatory, economic, social, research, technology, business, standards, safety, financing, application and maintenance issues associated with energy storage, small scale embedded generation, renewable energy and smart grid in domestic, commercial, industrial, utility, mini/micro-grid and electric vehicle applications.

The conference theme “Taking energy storage, small-scale embedded generation, and smart grid forward in Africa” was supported by excellent presentations by international and local professional experts in the energy industry.

Minister’s speech

Audat, speaking on behalf of Jeff Radebe, the minister of energy who was to speak but who, at the last minute had had to send his apologies, said that the importance of battery storage in addressing the inherent intermittency of renewable energy sources, while minimising the need to expand the electricity transmission and distribution networks should not be underestimated.

Click here to read the minister of energy’s speech

The adoption of SSEG systems offers a way of meeting electricity needs and reducing energy costs with low-cost carbon-free generators. SSEG will contribute to energy security. For this reason, he said, the latest version of the Integrated Resource Plan anticipates 2600 MW of SSEG in South Africa by 2030.

SSEG, if it is powered by renewable energy sources, needs some form of storage as part of the system to ensure access to energy on demand. According to Audat, the Department of Energy anticipates that a large-scale uptake of battery-based energy storage systems is imminent. This will accelerate the implementation of renewable energy technologies and bring about the decentralisation of the country’s energy system. The Department of Energy believes that energy storage, SSEG and smart-grids are all interconnected, necessary and unavoidable, Audat said.

Eskom’s plans

Govender said that Eskom’s battery storage testing facility, based at its research, testing and development facility in Germiston, is planning to install a 1440 MWh storage battery into the power utility’s distribution network. This enormous battery will complement the power utility’s other energy storage facilities: Drakensburg, Palmiet and Ingula – all of which are pumped-water energy storage systems – to provide a combined installed capacity of 2732 MW of electricity for the utility to use during peak demand.

Click here to read Thava Govender’s speech

Energy storage, renewable energy and smart-grids are the product of the digital age, he said. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. Advances in energy storage, micro off-grid technologies and control systems, together with the introduction of electrically-powered vehicles offer South Africa wonderful opportunities to provide electricity to more people, at lower cost and without producing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Govender cited a recent example in the Free State, where a small community has been provided with electricity by Eskom using a solar PV powered microgrid. This type of technology allows rural communities to be professionally electrified without the need for costly transmission lines.

In recent times, the future of Eskom has come into question. Govender’s view is that a successful power utility will be based upon a smart, accessible, affordable and resilient electricity system with a business model which generates income from diverse value-added services beyond energy sales.

Registration: The need for visibility

Audat said that for the Department of Energy to plan properly, it needs to know exactly how much SSEG is in operation – whether it’s connected to the national grid or not. For this reason, all SSEG systems will have to be registered with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa). SSEG systems, with or without batteries, which generate less than 1 MW will be exempt from licencing but will have to be registered. Those greater than 1 MW will require licences.

SSEG seminar

In his opening address to the SSEG seminar, which ran as a parallel track to the second day of the main conference, Mthokozisi Mpofu, the acting deputy director general (DDG) for programmes and projects in the Department of Energy, said that curtailment and limits imposed upon renewable energy generation in the new IRP are necessary because of the reducing demand for electricity. The mix of generation sources, he said, should not have too high a renewable component or the system may become unstable. Gas-fired generation will be required for system stability.

Click here to download Mthokozisi Mpofu’s PowerPoint slides

Although electricity prices from renewable energy-based systems in the first round of the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) was higher than existing generation technologies, the Department felt that it had to start somewhere and decided to go ahead on a small scale. As prices continue to fall, more systems will come on line, he said.

Imported energy, in the form of gas from Mozambique and electricity from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is still on the cards and will form part of South Africa’s – as well as the greater SADC region’s – energy future, he said.

The conference covered topics relating to energy storage technologies and systems; battery technologies; the management of distributed energy resources; funding, tariff setting and financial implications; microgrids and smart-grids; standardisation and safety; energy storage in transport applications; energy storage technologies other than batteries; ensuring the reliance of the grid; lightning protection and earthing of solar PV installations; trends and statistics of distributed generation; the regulatory and legal framework for SSEG systems; and practical considerations for the integration of embedded generation into commercial, industrial and municipal networks.


The event included a well-attended exhibition with about 23 companies demonstrating their latest offerings to the hundreds of delegates who attended the event.

Lucky draws

Delegates were invited to drop their business cards into a box and draws were taken in the exhibition area at the end of the first day. Five delegates won 120 W DC to AC inverters donated by Sinetech; and Frans Cronjé from Solarite South Africa won a SAIEE corporate sponsorship worth R20 000.


The Best Large Stand award was given to Victron Energy – a company which manufactures battery chargers and management products for small-scale embedded generation systems, such as rooftop solar PV, for both on and off-grid applications.

The Best Small Stand award went to HySA Infrastructure – a company which delivers technologies for hydrogen production (linked to renewable energy), storage and distribution.

SAESA workshop

The South African Energy Storage Association (SAESA) ran a workshop in the afternoon of the first day of the conference. Norman Jackson, the vice chair of the association reports that the workshop was attended by more than 20 people, who participated in an hour-long lively discussion on what SAESA should be concentrating on. The association’s contribution and comment to the new IEC specifications was made a priority for us. Other technologies which do not involve electricity were also highlighted. Some delegates indicated that they would like to join the association.

Click here for photos from the event

Click here to download the presentations

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