Picture by: Reuters
State-owned power utility Eskom said that it had capacity to add some 4 159 MW of new power generation from independent power producers (IPPs) to the national grid by 2012.
This capacity could be brought on line in the areas of the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, which were the three provinces where Eskom’s studies were concentrated. It was expected that there would be demand for connection of renewable energy generation in these areas.
The power provider on Wednesday released its ‘Generation Connection Capacity Assessment of the 2012 Transmission Network’.
By looking at the document, a developer could identify the closest substation to a project, check the local substation capacity availability, and see whether or not this substation was linked to grid, and what the limits were.
Operations and planning division MD Kannan Lakmeeharan noted that the independent unit, or Single Buyer’s Office, which would manage the relationship with IPPs was being established, and a further announcement on this was expected on April 1.
The utility urged IPP project developers to apply to apply to Eskom’s transmission division for an “indicative quote”, as soon as possible. This would state whether there was capacity at the project location to connect it to the existing grid.
The quote would indicate on exactly where a project would connect to the grid, or establish where the best place to connect would be, and how much this connection would cost.
“Any developer can request an indicative cost, at no charge, it is a non-binding cost estimate,” explained strategic grid planning division representative Ronald Marais, who emphasised that this did not mean that the project was given final approvals, as these decisions would likely be made by the Department of Energy, National Treasury and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa.
The proof (in the form of the indicative quote) that Eskom could accommodate the power would likely be an influencing factor of whether or not the project was given the go ahead though.
The sooner Eskom received information from developers, the sooner it would get an idea of which developers wanted to connect in which areas, and whether or not there were any overlaps.
Eskom said that it had received numerous requests for, and enquiries about, grid connection for renewable energy projects. It launched the document at a public forum in the interest of transparency and accessibility, the utility stated.
The 4 159 MW that could be connected by 2012 was described as ‘level 1’, which meant that this amount of power could be “immediately” connected to the main transmission system (MTS) substation (132kV or 66kV), with no transmission strengthening required.
By 2017, with some limited and local transmission strengthening, it was expected that a total of 6 700 MW of power generation from IPPs could be connected to the grid.
This was described as ‘Level 2’ connection capacity (400 kV, 275 kV or 220 kV).
The third and final level was described as a “strategic layer”, which was not discussed in the document as yet, and would rely on engagement with project developers to identify where projects might be located, and what kind of future transmission corridors would be required.
Eskom stated that one of the major hurdles to connecting generation capacity to the grid was that of laborious environmental impact assessment (EIA) processes.
Because transmission wires often ran over long distances, across many different landowners’ properties, getting approvals could take years.
Eskom said that it could take at least seven years up to construction to meet EIA requirements for the proposed solar park, in the Northern Cape near Upington.
Eskom said that four long transmission lines would be required from the proposed solar park site, and the utility has already applied for those EIAs. Eskom would start acquiring land when there is more confidence.
Marais said that the seven year estimate was conservative because EIAs were a gazetting process, and the minimum for that was 18 months, then land would need to be acquired, which could take two or three years.
Developers should strategically plan and apply as soon as possible because EIA hurdles could constrain the growth of renewables in South Africa, warned Eskom.