Energy generation: after many years, FF Plus pleas are heard
15 January 2020
President Cyril Ramaphosa's statement that businesses and households will be allowed and even encouraged to generate their own electricity in the future and feed their surplus back into the national power grid is something that the FF Plus has been advocating for years.
Thus, his statement is welcomed in the hope that the regulatory framework will speedily be adjusted so that it aligns with the President's statement. It is lamentable that it took an energy crisis in the country to finally persuade the government to make this decision.
While solar and wind energy generating systems are much cheaper to install than coal power stations, there are legal restrictions that hinder the private sector from helping to expand the country's power output capacity. And it is against this backdrop that Eskom's supply shortfalls are plunging the country into an economic crisis.
At present, one is allowed to install energy generation systems that generate up to 1mW for private use without first obtaining permission to do so. Households are also allowed to install photovoltaic panels.
In both cases, electricity can be supplied to the power grid at a fixed rate, however, such consumer/providers must remain nett consumers. That means that they can get a discount on their utility accounts, but that they cannot earn money.
These are the kind of stones that must be rolled out of the private sector's way according to the President's statement. The unregulated generating capacity will be increased to 10mW and businesses and households will become nett producers, in other words, they will be able to make money out of generating power.
Schools, factories, houses, shopping centres, barns on farms and numerous other structures could be fitted with solar panels. When one takes into account that from west to east South Africa covers two time zones, it becomes clear that solar power can be fed into the national grid for even longer than the sun shines in any one specific part of the country.
The cost of constructing housing for the poor will also change dramatically if one takes the fact that solar panels on the low-cost houses' roofs can generate energy into account. Schools could have an additional stream of income which will, in turn, help the government with developing education. Even municipalities could use their roof space to generate energy.
Stabilising the agricultural economy is something that is very close to the FF Plus's heart. South Africa's climate makes agriculture a very volatile endeavour, but sunshine remains stable. If farmers are allowed to generate energy on a small part of their farm, drought relief could become superfluous in the near future.
The FF Plus previously calculated that one hectare of solar panels has an electricity generation capacity of up to 1mW at a cost of approximately R10 million. It could ensure an annual income of approximately R2 million for that one farming unit. If the initial capital investment is paid off in years when there is good rainfall, then the returns from generating energy can be used for survival in drought-stricken years.
Such installations have the potential to turn the country's backlog in energy generation around within just a few months. If the government had listened to the FF Plus's advice years ago, the country could currently have been in an economic growth phase. However, it is never too late to come to one's senses and take appropriate action.
Issued by Wynand Boshoff, FF Plus MP and chief spokesperson: Mineral Resources and Energy, 15 January 2020