Unless South Africa aggressively invests in renewable energy and relaxes air quality standards, Eskom’s models show it might need to implement stage 15 load-shedding.
This was the warning from Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, who spoke at the Africa Renewables Investment Summit in Cape Town, News24 reported.
“Stage 15 load shedding. I don’t want to know what that looks like,” De Ruyter said, adding that it would cost 100,000 jobs.
De Ruyter explained that Eskom’s existing coal power stations do not meet minimum emissions standards, leaving the power utility with a choice:
Either spend roughly R300 billion to retrofit them with equipment to clean their emissions, or decommission them.
This projected cost is too great for Eskom to take on, and even if it could, it would lead to increased electricity tariff hikes.
Eskom has already applied for a 32% price increase this year.
With retrofitting off the table, Eskom would have to shut down 16GW of capacity immediately and 30GW by 2025.
Each stage of load-shedding represents roughly a gigawatt (GW) of power that must be shed.
The Eskom System Operator’s load-shedding schedules currently go up to stage 8.
Eskom’s installed generating capacity is around 44GW, of which 38GW is coal.
It would therefore need to shut down 42% of its coal power stations immediately, and 79% by 2025.
Earlier this year, the North Gauteng High Court ruled against the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment and the National Air Quality Officer over the air quality in Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
It gave government 12 months to address the matter with revised air quality rules and penalties for non-compliance.
Environmental minister Barbara Creecy has applied for leave to appeal the ruling.
Why Eskom supports renewable energy rollouts
Should Eskom be allowed to continue operating its existing coal fleet without meeting strict new environmental rules, plants would still need to be decommissioned when they reach end-of-life.
The state-owned power utility’s power stations are old, and for some of them, that day will be in the next 15 years.
Building replacement coal-fired or nuclear power stations that meet these requirements would be expensive, and lead times on such projects are years long.
Energy experts have said it could take 10–12 years to build new traditional power stations.
Construction on the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations began in 2007 — 15 years ago — and they are still not finished.
Although new power stations could be part of South Africa’s plans to meet its future energy needs, the country’s focus must be on alleviating load-shedding in the short term.
De Ruyter said Eskom’s solution is to support the rollout of renewable power generation in South Africa.
This includes an initiative to lease land near its power stations in Mpumalanga to independent renewable power producers.
When it announced the plan in December 2021, Eskom said bids for government’s renewable power procurement programme showed that renewable energy is the least-cost option for new generating capacity.
Vodacom also recently told MyBroadband that it has partnered with Eskom to pilot a system to source 100% of its electricity demand for its South African operations from renewable independent power producers.
De Ruyter said that although Vodacom would no longer be consuming Eskom-generated electricity, the utility would still have a role in wheeling the power Vodacom procures over its grid.
Vodacom also cautioned that the project would not directly improve energy security at its sites.
However, a successful pilot programme would create a blueprint for other South African corporates to follow.
It would let other companies access renewable power purchase agreements and enable the private sector to help Eskom with much-needed additional capacity.
“This is a monumental move forward to assist Eskom and South Africa to solve the energy crisis, which proves our greatest threat to an economic recovery,” Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said.