Northern Cape’s Grid Capacity Drying Up, Eskom Warns

ESKOM this week indicated that Northern Cape (NC), sought after for its wind and photovoltaic (PV) opportunities, has run out of grid capacity.
Depleted capacity in the Northern Cape will see developers in South Africa’s budding renewable energy industry now needing to consider grid capacity more than access to resources, the company said.
In its recently updated Generation Connection Capacity Assessment (GCCA) report which tracks space available for new connections, Eskom said any new PV or wind projects will need to look at other provinces such as the Western Cape, North West, Free State or even Limpopo.
According to the state owned power utility, the only available option would be to install a slightly more transformer capacity which would only add 150 megawatt (MW) in the short term, requiring extensive and costly grid expansion in the longer term to accommodate new entrants.
Most of the current renewable energy projects in South Africa are located in the Northern Cape, where it makes use of the abundant wind and solar resources. It is estimated that 70 percent of new PV and 60 percent of wind projects developments are located in this province.
Eskom said other provinces have collectively more than 4 gigawatts of spare capacity on their grid with the breakdown citing 1 100MW in the Western Cape, 1 740 in the Eastern Cape, the North West has 4 051MW, the Free State has 1 260MW and more in others while the Northern Cape has used up over 3 226MW. General manager in Sub-Saharan Africa of Norwegian renewables giant Scatec, Jan Fourie said Eskom describes a congested provincial grid which cannot take any on additional projects without a substantial upgrade of the grid itself.
“Considering the urgency of our country’s need to transition to renewable energy, I don’t foresee this being a practical option in the short term. The alternative is for developers to look at other provinces where solar and wind resources are also available,” Fourie said. In response to enquiries, Eskom said the grid lacked spare-wheeling capacity in the entire Northern Cape.
It said the technical assessment was based following the announcement of the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP) bids, resulting in constrained generation capacity in the Northern Cape area. As a result of Bid Windows 1 – 4 as well as the RMIPPP programme almost 3.2GW of new generation capacity was added to the Northern Cape area that has consumed all the available capacity.
“An interim solution is in the form of a transformer upgrade at the Garona Substation, which will enable at least 150MW of additional capacity. Moreover, Eskom is investigating additional network strengthening options to enhance the Northern Cape network to increase the capacity to accommodate more generation,” the utility said.
The major factor that determined the location of a renewable energy project, said Fourie, has for a long time been the access to wind and solar resources which explains the popularity of the Northern Cape.
“Developers will now need to consider grid capacity perhaps more than access to resources. South Africa is in a fortunate position to have an abundance of solar and wind resources, and there is now the potential of a very welcome cash injection for other provincial economies which will ultimately be in everyone’s best interest,” Fourie said.