By Viren Sookhun, Managing Director at Oxyon
South Africa is currently pushing the renewable energy agenda hard, and for good reason. Not only is it essential in reducing carbon emissions and meeting net zero and Just Energy Transition goals, but it is also a critical element in solving the current electricity crisis. However, once we have managed the transition, and our base load of renewable energy is sufficient to meet the demand of the country, we cannot simply breathe a sigh of relief that the journey is over. We need to plan for the future, otherwise history will repeat itself and in another generation we will find ourselves in the same position once more, just without the problem of fossil fuels.
A limited lifespan
All of the renewable energy technology that is currently being implemented and that will be implemented in the near future has a lifespan of around 20 to 25 years. It also needs to be continuously managed and maintained to ensure that it produces maximal energy output. The reality is that whatever method is used to generate electricity, it will have a lifespan and components will become less efficient over time, and eventually they will fail.
This needs to be factored into our long-term energy plan, otherwise once the renewable technologies reach end of life, we will once again be in a position where the energy demand cannot be met, and the providers will be faced with little option other than load shedding once more. Without effective planning, history will repeat itself.
Planning for the future
There has been a significant amount of time and energy given to the energy transition and projects are beginning to break ground, but there have been significant delays and we cannot afford to stall any longer. We also need to look at these projects from a circular economy perspective, with plans in place for what will happen to the equipment at end of life. Currently the components are not recyclable, which is something that needs to be considered when they must be decommissioned.
It is also critical to plan for maintenance to reduce breakages and downtime, and to plan for how to keep growing capacity to meet growing demand. Not only do we need to have sufficient generation capacity in place to meet the base load, we need to take into account the fact that plants will need to be taken offline for maintenance and repairs, so extra capacity is critical.
With the population growth as it is, and the fact that we are striving to bring our rural areas onto the grid and electrify areas where currently there is no infrastructure, we will need to ensure capacity is able to keep pace with growth. In addition, as the fourth industrial revolution continues, there will also be increased demand for electricity, which needs to be taken into account and planned for effectively.
Not the end of the road
Just because we are changing how we generate electricity, does not mean that we can rest on our laurels for the future. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, including having a plan for routine maintenance, for breakdowns, for damage, environmental issues and more. We also need to include increased battery storage into planning because this is a critical component of renewable generation. We cannot ignore these issues now and only look at them in five years’ time. What backup plans do we have in place?
The reality is that life after load shedding is not a sigh of relief, but only the beginning of the next phase. If we do not plan effectively for the future, we will find ourselves in the same boat as we are now, with load shedding, disruption to power and to business, and many other issues besides these.