DMRE’s promise of urgent action on power supply fails to include timelines

10th December 2019 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

DMRE’s promise of urgent action on power supply fails to include timelines

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe
Photo by: Creamer Media's Dylan Slater

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) announced on Tuesday that the much-anticipated request for information (RFI) for emergency supply- and demand-side solutions to close the gap left by Eskom’s underperforming coal-fired power stations, both old and new, would be published soon. It also indicated that the Section 34 Ministerial determinations needed to facilitate the procurement of new capacity would be published.

However, no timeframes were formally communicated.

The Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP 2019), which was unveiled by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on October 18, indicated that South Africa required emergency solutions to close a supply deficit of between 2 000 MW and 3 000 MW.

The deficit had arisen as a result of a fall in the energy availability factor (EAF) from Eskom’s coal fleet to below 70%, as well as the de-rating of output from the much-delayed Medupi and Kusile plants. Eskom confirmed recently that the five operating Medupi units were, on average, producing at a rate of 550 MW apiece, well below their 800 MW nameplates, while the operational units at Kusile were delivering at a rate of between 350 MW and 400 MW on average.

The poor performance of Medupi came to the fore again this week when Eskom reverted to load-shedding, which at one point was ramped-up to Stage 6 for the first time ever, which translates to rotational cuts of 6 000 MW. Stage 6 was declared after the power supply to the incline conveyors feeding coal to the silos at Medupi failed. This, together with unplanned breakdowns of more than 15 000 MW and ongoing planned summer maintenance, pushed the supply/demand balance well into the red.

The DMRE said in a statement that it was committed to developing adequate generation capacity to meet electricity demand. “This is an urgent and immediate task to ensure economic growth.”

The department added that, to ensure security of electricity supply, Mantashe was considering short- and medium-term interventions, including the publication of the RFI for immediate generation options that could be introduced within three to 12 months “to help fill the short-term gap”.

The DMRE said responses to the RFI would enable the department to design an appropriate intervention in the immediate term.

Engineering News Online understands that the Independent Power Producer Office (IPPO) has prepared the documentation, which is ready for release. The Ministry’s media liaison officer, Nathi Shabangu, refused to confirm either that the RFI had been drafted or the role that would be played by the IPPO, however, saying only that the issue was receiving urgent attention and that further announcements would be made “soon”.

A new level of urgency was also reflected in the early return of President Cyril Ramaphosa from the Egyptian capital of Cairo on Tuesday, having initially been slated to participate in a high-level panel at the Inaugural Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development on Wednesday. Instead, Ramaphosa would now meet with the Eskom board and management for a briefing on plans to mitigate and resolve the current electricity crisis affecting most of the country.


That said, some concern has been raised by electricity stakeholders that the emergency RFI could result in a material deviation from a least-cost new build solution, which the IRP confirmed would be one based on solar photovoltaic, wind and flexible generation.

Instead of pursuing emergency solutions, such as power barges, several stakeholders believe the DMRE should be unblocking the current regulatory impediments to the introduction of small-scale distributed plants, while reintroducing a yearly procurement discipline for the introduction of independent power producer capacity. South Africa has not procured any new capacity since 2014, when Bid Window 4 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme was undertaken.

The DMRE statement made no mention, however, of unblocking the prevailing constraints to the introduction of small-scale embedded generation projects of less than 10 MW, nor to any possible lifting of the maximum export capacity (MEC) limits on operating wind farms.

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association believes that up to 2 000 MW of small-scale capacity could be added to the energy mix over the coming 12 months should the current onerous registration and licensing processes be streamlined. It has also called for the 1 MW registration cap to be raised to 10 MW to help accelerate installation rates.

Meanwhile, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) has called for the immediate release of available wind power into the national grid by lifting the MEC limits that govern how much energy is permitted to be exported by wind farm power generators. Currently wind farms can only export the pre-agreed maximum capacity into the grid and are forced to curtail any additional capacity.

SAWEA argues that, if the restriction was lifted, government could buy that additional energy at marginal cost, which could be as low as R0.40c/kWh. “The operational wind energy plants have excess capacity of about 500 MW available immediately. These can also be short term contracts that can be signed in this interim capacity constraint period and it doesn’t have to be viewed as a long-term commitment,” SAWEA CEO Ntombifuthi Ntuli said in a statement.

The other interventions being considered by the DMRE included:

The department said it planned to meet with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa “to conclude on matters of concurrence so it can assist the Ministry respond to the challenges”.

“Despite these immediate interventions, the IRP 2019 is the blueprint that sets a clear path for security of energy supply and electricity for the country. It dictates that South Africa will continue to pursue a diversified energy mix,” the DMRE concluded.