The future of electricity: a grid utility

Transforming power utility Eskom into a transmission and distribution business and expanding the grid infrastructure to transmit electricity to service potential demand in other African countries is the most suitable solution to the utility’s future survival, according to panellists and delegates at the “Thinking energy – Grid resilience” workshop hosted by the South African National Energy Association (SANEA) in Johannesburg recently.

The utility needs to create a grid business that is independent of the generation business. The proposed “ideal grid” would be the answer to the utility’s future financial stability, providing sustainable income and transforming Eskom to enable it to have its place in the future energy landscape.

Energy Intensive Users Group past chairman, Piet van Staden, says that it is in everyone’s interest to help Eskom out of its death spiral, including consumers, tax payers, government, industry and the private sector.

The energy sector must reduce uncertainty for investors, and work on solutions that will bring investment into South Africa, said Thava Govender, group executive and acting group executive of risk and sustainability at Eskom, during his keynote address. There are still 600-million people in Africa (3-million in South Africa) who do not have access to electricity and Eskom aims to lead the way in electrifying the rest of the continent.

This provides an opportunity for the electricity generation and distribution industry as whole. Eskom has a surplus of electricity, so its core focus should move to grid infrastructure technology development, and grid infrastructure planning and construction, to allow IPPs to supply and sell electricity to the grid.

The utility needs to plan and build grid infrastructure that allows for economic growth which will in turn drive up the demand for electricity.

It was suggested that the transmission and distribution business should still be left as a state-owned enterprise, but also as an independent business separate to the generation business. The grid’s business should be to facilitate the supply of electricity to consumers and to provide the technology and infrastructure to manage frequency and voltage supplied by IPPs feeding into the grid, to keep it stable.

It was also suggested that the grid plan should form part of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) where its function is optimised and clearly defined. Distribution should be considered part of the grid and be referenced in the IRP. Pervelan Govender, head of the technical unit at the IPP Office, explained that the planning phase of new grid infrastructure takes four to five years while construction only takes two to three years, and this presents an opportunity to put the environmental authorisations, licensing and other legal and financial framework in place now while we have a surplus of electricity so that we can have the new grid infrastructure ready for future demand.

In conclusion, the workshop provided industry with an opportunity to discuss challenges and ideas to ensure South Africa has a future electricity grid network which will be able to manage higher demands, and more importantly, an energy mix of the future, which is likely to include various generation technologies, more IPPs, more embedded generation in the distribution sector and more co-generation and self-generation from large and small consumers. The evolution requires new approaches to development, operation and maintenance of transmission and distribution networks, metering, tariffs and policy, and licensing.

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Source: EE plublishers

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