Going Solar

South Africa’s Two Biggest Cities Are Ditching Eskom And “Going Solar”


October 30, 2020

Solar energy adoption is climbing higher on the ladder of growth, as it is increasingly gaining popularity and usage all around the world. 

A report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions disclosed that “in 2018, around 100 GW of global capacity was added, bringing the total to about 505 GW and with Solar Energy producing a bit more than 2 percent of the world’s electricity.”

Africa’s second-largest yet most-advanced economy, South Africa, has keyed into this cause as it currently leads the continent in the adoption of solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity.

The two biggest cities in South Africa by population size, Johannesburg and Cape Town, have recently revealed their plan to diversify and take a shift from the electricity produced mainly from coal by Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd to more sustainable sources such as solar power.

This decision is understood to have been founded on three factors: Eskom’s unreliability, the commitment of both cities to reduce carbon emissions, and the need to protect customers from rising power prices. 

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What’s the deal with Eskom?

Electricity Supply Commission (ESKOM), South Africa’s power utility company, was established in 1923 and is the largest producer of electricity in Africa.

Eskom generates approximately 95 percent of the electricity used in South Africa, and it relies on coal-fired power stations to produce approximately 90 percent of its electricity. The biggest factor pushing this is that coal mining in South Africa is relatively cheap compared to the rest of the world.

However, Eskom has been struggling for over a decade now. Between 2007 to 2019, Eskom has failed to meet its electricity demand, with several bouts of severe power cuts.

The utility company has a total nominal capacity of around 44,000 megawatts (MW). But lately, Eskom has been unable to provide around 13,000 MW of total capacity, which has resulted in incessant nationwide blackouts.

The recent move by South Africa’s two biggest would, in addition to improving the security of supply, also allows the cities to boost their fight against climate change by utilising power sources that do not result in the emission of greenhouse gases. 

The carbon emission problem

South Africa has a large energy sector, with coal being the largest source of its energy production.

In 2018, coal was responsible for nearly 90 percent of South Africa’s energy production. Only about 6.6 percent of electricity production came from renewable energy sources (wind power, hydropower, solar power, and biofuels to a smaller degree).

Coal produces a huge amount of greenhouse gases which in turn causes the planet to become warmer in a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. These greenhouse gas emissions are the primary human activity affecting the increasing rate of climate change.

South Africa is identified to have the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in Africa.

For context, South Africa produces the same quantity of greenhouse gases as the U.K., which has an economy eight times larger.

Solar energy to the rescue?

This past decade has seen the world’s solar power capacity grow tremendously and both Johannesburg and Cape Town are emerging as early adopters of this cause on the African continent.

With approval already gotten from the energy ministry this month, allowing them to wean themselves off the state utility which has subjected these cities to outages for the past 13 years.

Both cities, having a combined population of about 10 million people, have chosen to diversify away from the electricity produced mainly from coal by Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, to more sustainable sources such as solar and power generated from landfill gas.

It was revealed that power would mostly be sourced from solar plants and landfills, as well as gas captured from rotting garbage. These would be used in the production of electricity that will power both cities.

“The City is looking at 300 megawatts of renewable energy. If all clarity is obtained and plans forge ahead, we could start seeing greater diversification of our energy resources as a city in about three to five years,” says Kadri Nasseip, Cape Town’s Executive Director for Energy and Climate Change.

The downside to this move is mostly for Eskom as it will slash its revenue significantly. As it is, the utility company is struggling to service a USD 30 Bn debt. However, overall, this move is expected to remedy the power issues in the states.

Featured Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

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