Energy News — 12 January 2012

The choices made years ago in the energy sector in times of excess capacity have become the hurdles that stand in the way of energy advancements in today’s South African energy landscape says Elsa du Toit, panelist and moderator of the discussion How do we ensure and prioritise energy security for economic development at the upcoming Africa Energy Indaba 2012 Conference and Exhibition which will take place February 21 to 23 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

“Now that energy supply is constrained, South Africa needs to challenge historical decisions and investigate new ways of providing energy to communities. All energy sources should be used optimally and hybrid renewable energy solutions should be further investigated in combination with energy efficiency and distributed generation,” adds du Toit. Especially since controller technologies are currently available that could make these applications implementable and feasible.



For example, renewable energy technologies in a suburban community setup can be more optimally applied if they are interlinked. By utilising the latest technology controllers, biogas driven generator sets, photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and battery sets can be managed efficiently to ensure an optimal and reliable supply of energy for a community.



However, according to du Toit, “it will take a concerted effort and a significant mindset change to undertake the crossing from status quo energy technologies to a distributed generation system using hybrid renewable energy technologies. It is well known that technological advances in energy efficiency, renewable energy as well as controller systems, which lead to highly efficient energy use, are promising investments. It is the practical implementation that seems to be the real challenge.”



There are many different definitions explaining distributed generation but essentially distributed generation is electricity production on-site or close to the load centre that is interconnected to the distribution system.


According to research derived from a Canadian study, in order for distributed generation to be implemented on a large scale in South Africa, there needs to be certainty on the expected costs and associated benefits. These can be determined by:

·         Identifying the costs and benefits;

·         Developing methods to quantify the costs and benefits;

·         Quantifying the costs and benefits; and

·         Developing and implementing market mechanisms to allocate costs and benefits.

“Eskom, Independent Power Producers (IPP’s) and municipalities that generate electricity should be required to make publicly available their distribution investment plans and the capital required for these, including the need for the proposed distribution expansion projects, cost of those projects, and their timing,” says du Toit. “Utilities should also be required to determine system losses and publicly identify where distributed generation can be implemented to minimise these losses,” she adds. Mechanisms should then be established where utilities compensate distributed generation customers who help reduce these losses.



In the longer term, a system wide approach for determining distributed generation costs and benefits should be adopted. This should occur as better, more readily accepted methods, models, and data that can more accurately determine the locational and time dependent benefits.



In addition utilities should implement a program that identifies from a system level perspective where distributed generation would be most cost effective to eliminate system losses, defer capital transmission and distribution projects, and reduce the need for ancillary services says du Toit. “The utility programs should also provide compensation to distributed generation customers who are already providing these benefits to the utility system.”



As an interim step to creating a system-wide approach, utilities should be required to partner with the energy regulator to validate a systems-level model and approach that optimises the transmission and distribution system. This model should be vetted in a public workshop process by NERSA.



Hybrid renewable energy solutions to be used within the distributed generation solution should also be investigated. “In the United States these shown to be very cost effective and reliable at all times, as the system is not entirely reliant on one energy source,” says du Toit. In a country like South Africa where economic growth and job creation are needed it is believed that introducing hybrid systems could open the energy market up for more technologies and players to enter successfully.

“Hybrid solutions are being implemented in South Africa but on a limited scale through mostly small scale solar and wind combinations. The concept is, however, not optimally implemented yet,” says du Toit.


If the full scale potential for hybrid systems is investigated and implemented in conjunction with a distributed generation system the following could be achieved:

·         Hybrid power systems can offer solutions and value to customers that individual technologies cannot match;

·         Hybrids offer market entry strategies for technologies that cannot currently compete with the lowest-cost traditional options;

·         Renewable hybrid power systems and controllers are commercially viable today.

In the South African context renewable energy applications — if implemented optimally — have a high reliability however these will require more effort to implement.  According to du Toit, “SANEDI, CSIR and universities should conduct pilot studies and demonstration projects to evaluate a new renewable hybrid energy systems initiative with an emphasis on distributed generation applications in suburban communities. This renewable hybrid energy initiative could include substantial private (technology providers) and private (homeowners) and public (municipalities and Eskom) partnership.


9 January 2012


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