After being weakened by accusations of corruption, South Africa’s energy supplier Eskom has been forced to undertake load shedding to help the infrastructure survive
During these periods of load shedding, many South Africans have looked to personal renewable energy systems to help support them through the blackouts. However, even with a large, state of the art solar photovoltaic (PV) system, the average South African will likely not store enough energy to get them through the worst periods of load shedding.
Load shedding is the planned restriction of electrical supply to avoid a complete blackout. Load shedding has become common across South Africa as Eskom infrastructure struggles to cope with the increasing demand from a growing population.
Due to the limited infrastructure, Eskom has available, load shedding is a necessary means of keeping the grid from complete blackout. Not to be confused with a localised blackout, a complete blackout would require energy stations to be manually restarted, which could have serious consequences for hospitals and other vital services.
On the other hand, load shedding brings many small and medium-sized businesses to a halt and often lasts for hours on end. This has a drastic effect on small businesses who already work to tight margins. The adoption of multiple energy generation practices and a reduced dependence on coal should hopefully see this balance out in the near future. The latest round of load shedding was ranked at stage 4, meaning power was out for two hours at a time, 12 times over four days or for four hours at a time, 12 times over eight days.
South Africa is adopting more and more renewable practices in their energy generation.
The latest ‘Electricity, gas and water supply’ industry report shows that attitudes towards renewable energy have been changing over the past 10 years. The report from 2016 shows that coal has dropped from 88.3% in 2013 to 85.7% in 2016.
Additionally, solar energy didn’t feature in the 2013 survey but now makes up 0.9% of total electricity production. In 2013, wind power contributed 18GWh but saw an increase to 2,126 GWh in 2016. The largest solar power plant in the country, the Jasper solar energy project, generates enough energy to power 80,000 homes annually. But although steps are being taken in the right direction, coal dependence is still high and the actual transportation of energy is keeping Eskom back.
Coal is a readily available and cheap energy source but due to its status as non-renewable, it is vital that the South African economy doesn’t heavily depend on it and makes preparations for its scarcity in the near future.
South African energy use
The estimated energy use of South Africa is 207.1 bn kWh annually, or 3,651 kWh per capita – the largest energy consumption in Africa. The next closest is Nigeria, which totals 24.72 bn kWh per year. The average daily electricity use of a South African citizen is roughly 10 kWh. Residential solar panels produce 2 kWh per 8 hours of sun, meaning in South Africa, each person would need 5 solar panels to generate a day’s worth of electricity.
For those citizens looking to solar power to get through load shedding, stage four load shedding lasts four hours at a time and the average energy use over four hours is 1.6 kWh, equivalent to using a hairdryer for an hour. Additionally, electricity is off for a grand total of 48 hours. It would take 5 solar panels working over 2 days to generate the energy needed to stay powered up through stage four load shedding.
To store this amount of energy, each person would also need 16 Enertec deep cycle batteries with a rating of 12 V 105 Ah or at least two of these batteries to last one four-hour period.
From these calculations, it’s clear that personal solar power energy generation and storage is not able to help South Africans support themselves without the grid. However, the increased interest in solar PV systems shows that citizens of South Africa are looking towards other energy solutions in the face of consistent blackouts.
While Eskom has assured that the lights will stay on throughout the winter, the entire system is fragile and coal dependence can only last for so long.
What’s the solution?
Whether load shedding has come to a halt or not, South Africa will need to make plans to continue reducing their coal consumption and facilitating investment in renewable energy production to keep their activities sustainable as the largest consumer of energy on the continent.
While solar power systems may not be the answer in the face of load shedding, personal solar PV systems can still produce clean energy that can help take a small amount of strain off the national infrastructure.
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