New Microgrid Model for South African Coal

Aug. 17, 2021
In a bid to tackle its carbon emissions, South Africa’s Eskom is turning away from coal and embracing a future of microgrid development. 

South African state-owned energy giant Eskom has outlined plans to boost its clean energy ambitions with a foray into microgrid development.

According to statements from Andre de Ruyter, chief executive of Eskom Holdings, the company plans to accelerate its transition away from coal, which currently provides the bulk of its generation capacity.

In a presentation to the Presidential Climate Commission, de Ruyter reportedly set out proposals for more than 8 GW of new clean energy projects. Among the plans are some 1,400 MW of microgrid projects alongside wind, solar and hydropower. 

The flagship microgrid project will be centered on the Komati coal-fired power plant in Mpumalanga province about 23 miles from Middelburg.

First commissioned in 1961, the last of the nine units at this 1,000 MW pulverized coal station is due for decommissioning next year. Workshops located at the plant will now be used to manufacture a containerized microgrid that is to be marketed where grid-based energy supply is prohibitively expensive. Alongside the microgrid venture, Eskom is also aiming to use other elements at Komati to support its clean energy ambitions — for example, using the grid infrastructure for an on-site solar power project. 

With Eskom’s energy transition expected to cost around $10 billion, including the microgrid elements, the program will be financed through a multilender, multiyear loan facility including development finance institutions such as the World Bank.

Eskom has already developed a pilot microgrid project at Wilhelmina Farm, Ficksburg, in the Free State, which supplies some 14 households using 32 kW of solar power and three lithium ion battery units providing a total of 90 kWh of storage. 

“The project symbolizes innovation, growth and development and is consistent with Eskom’s future strategic objectives as microgrids incorporating renewable and smart energy technologies will play an important role in the future Eskom as an integral part of the business,” said Nick Singh, Smart Grid CoE manager at Eskom’s Research, Testing and Development Center when the project was launched in late 2018.

Earlier this year, smart energy services company Cenfura formed a joint venture with project developer DNA Global Energy to deploy 14 renewable energy microgrids at gated communities across South Africa. 

Some 13% of South African households still do not have electricity, while the country has been plagued by grid supply issues for well over a decade. As a result, microgrids are seen as increasingly important for the country as well as the wider region in order to meet sustainable development goals.

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David Appleyard

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