An analysis conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Energy Centre outlines significant potential to create thousands of fulltime jobs and to nurture hundreds of small enterprises by supporting the further deployment of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) plants.
Even in the absence of a supportive environment, the centre estimates that South Africa’s installed base of SSEG plants, mostly in the form of rooftop solar installations, has grown to above 400 MW from close to zero ten years ago.
This growth has coincided with a steep rise in South Africa’s electricity tariffs over the period and a similarly steep fall in the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules. Between 2007 and 2017, the average electricity tariff in South Africa increased by 384%, while solar PV technology costs fell by more than 530%.
CSIR Energy Centre head Dr Clinton Carter-Brown reported on Tuesday that its research pointed to there being a total of 387 MW of SSEG capacity installed in South Africa by the end of 2017.
A further 150 MW to 200 MW was likely to have been added last year alone, spurred partly by a return to load-shedding by Eskom during the year.
Addressing a Nedbank and EE Publishers energy seminar in Johannesburg, Carter-Brown stressed that it was not possible to provide an exact capacity figure, owing to the fact that most behind-the-meter installations had not been formally registered or licensed with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, as is legally required.
Nevertheless, its research pointed to the fact that SSEG growth had been both significant and rapid over the past few years.
South African Photovoltaic Industry Association executive director Niveshen Govender underlined this point in his address at the same seminar, stating that the 400 MW in SSEG capacity arose from an estimated 60 000 installations across the country.
The pace of growth was also unlikely to slow, in light of ongoing electricity tariff increases, continuing technology cost decreases, as well as a desire among businesses and more affluent residential consumers to guarantee their own security of supply.
The CSIR Energy Centre is not a proponent of grid defection, arguing that it would raise overall system costs and would also accelerate the so-called utility death spiral.
However, Carter-Brown said continued SSEG growth would not only help ease South Africa’s current supply-side constraints, but could also have material employment and enterprise-development spinoffs.
Using the draft 2018 Integrated Resource Plan’s (IRP’s) “conservative” assumption of 200 MW of SSEG capacity being added yearly between 2019 and 2030, a total of 2 400 MW of additional capacity would be installed over the period.
To build and operate that additional 2 400 MW in capacity would initially require 2 500 people ramping up to 3 500 fulltime employees as the levels of local content increased. The number of fulltime employees required to operate and maintain the SSEG plants would scale-up over time and climb to over 1 600 people by 2030.
Carter-Brown stressed that these jobs figures were restricted to an SSEG build-out, with many other jobs likely to be created to build, operate and maintain the far larger utility scale plants that would be required in line with the IRP.
It was also noted that the draft IRP currently serving before the National Economic Development and Labour Council caters for yearly SSEG installations of 500 MW, rather than the 200 MW included in the initial 2018 document.
“There is a lot of potential, particularly for the small businesses to participate in this segment of the electricity market – a market that at the utility-scale level is typically quite prohibitive to enter,” Carter-Brown said, describing it as a massive new economic opportunity for South Africa.