Jordan promises that "even if the long wires don't come, the electricity will."

Jordan promises that “even if the long wires don’t come, the electricity will.”

On Friday morning, Eskom marked another milestone in its foray into the world of decentralized energy systems by launching a small containerized electrification project in a remote corner of the Northern Cape.

At the end of 62km of locomotive-packed road followed by 90km of unforgiving, rocky gravel road, the tiny tower of Swartkopdam has long been lit by candlelight and warmed by log fires. Simply too far away – and the terrain unfavorable – to connect to the wires that carry electricity to the rest of South Africa, Swartkopdam has never had electricity.

From left: Northern Cape Chief Minister Dr Zamani Saul, Minister for Public Enterprises Praveen Gordhan and CEO of Eskom Distribution Group Mundi Bala unveil the minigrid system at Swartkopdam on 21 July 2023. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

This is no longer the case. Since late December 2022, the approximately 43-kilowatt solar panel array has provided nearly unlimited electricity to a community of about 40 homes.

According to the world bank89.3% of South Africans will have access to electricity in 2021. This is a significant increase from 34% in 1994, the year apartheid ended.

The increase in electrification is largely attributed to the intervention of the South African government, Eskom and programs such as The National Integrated Electricity Program (INEP).

The North Cape Premier, Dr Zamani Saul, acknowledged this fact. He mentioned how 95% of homes in the Northern Cape have electricity. Speaking to the crowd in Afrikaans, Saul said that with this project they are adding more to the ratio.

Also speaking at the official launch of the project, Minister for Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan shared his congratulations for “shine the light on this part of South Africa” to the stakeholders in attendance. Jordan went on to explain that the Northern Cape will be “home to most of the renewable energy investment [in South Africa] In the future.”

The solar array that powers the Swartkopdam community (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

South Africa is in the midst of what it calls a just energy transition, in which the country will shift from a legacy of electricity generation largely dominated by polluting coal-fired power plants in the east of the country to a future in which renewable energy contributes a larger share of generation capacity. Much of that infrastructure will be located in western South Africa in the Western and Northern Cape, with significant levels of solar and wind potential.

in Stady Conducted by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, and published in April 2022, South Africa and Egypt were identified as the most suitable African countries for renewable energy development and investments.

Among the findings of the study, which is based on an analysis of the African continent, is that South Africa “offers favorable conditions for wind installations due to its high wind speeds (12m/s at 100m), high dependence on electricity from fossil fuels (213 billion kWh), good political stability, and appropriate technical and economic factors.” Daily Maverick that “SA has one of the best solar and wind energy potentials in the entire African continent”.

The entire mini grid is housed in a standard size container (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

The Northern Cape in particular provides favorable conditions for the development of solar power generation. Nik Singh, Director of the Smart Grid Center of Excellence in Eskom’s R&D department, agreed.

Talking to daily maverick, He explained that Swartkopdam receives an average of 10 hours of sunlight per day, which when combined with the size and modular nature of the micro-grid is more than enough to provide the townspeople with all their electricity needs.

Lithium-ion batteries that store energy to be converted into electricity when needed. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

This, he said, is a concrete example of how Eskom can provide innovative solutions to bring electricity generation to remote towns whether they are too far away or geographically unable to connect to the grid. All with the necessary infrastructure fitting neatly into a standard shipping container.

“Even if the long wires don’t come, the electricity will,” Jordan said, hammering home the point Friday.

According to Eskom Distribution Group’s CEO, Monde Bala, it has identified facilities and budgeted – for this fiscal year – for at least 100 similar projects that are being rolled out across the country. DM


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