PacB Group // The Status of Renewable Energy Solutions in South Africa


The Status of Renewable Energy Solutions in South Africa

Renewable Energy Solutions in South Africa

Why are so many South Africans interested in renewable energy solutions and backup power systems? South Africans went into the 2022 winter with Eskom announcing that the public could expect to face up to 100 days of rolling power outages, colloquially known as load shedding. The hard fact was that Eskom had absolutely no choice but to begin implementing load shedding. By the end of June, they had occasions where they were experiencing a capacity shortfall of up to 6,000 MW in their ability to meet the national demand for electricity. This equates to around 20% of the national evening peak demand figure.

Everyone agrees that Eskom needs additional new electricity generation to mitigate the need for load shedding and stop the disruptive power outages. There is unfortunately no consensus on the optimal solution and radically divergent views on how to achieve the best outcome for South Africa. The existing electricity provision plan approved three years ago is already outdated and attempts at its implementation are nearly two years behind schedule. So, what is to be done?

President Ramaphosa announced that sweeping changes to the regulation of solar and wind power production are imminent. Bureaucratic obstacles to the establishment of renewable power facilities are to be removed in to increase renewable power production and combat the electricity crisis. The government clearly wants to stimulate a major increase in renewable power production.


Possible Renewable Energy Solutions Available

Wind and solar power are the renewable energy solutions turned to where hydropower sites are not an option. Wind and solar are particularly attractive in South Africa because we have some of the best solar and wind resources in the world. The Northern Cape ranks in the top five solar generation sites in the world. Solar and wind plants can be built in less than two years which is a fifth of the time required for a coal or nuclear plant. Running costs are very low and maintenance on solar plants negligible. There are effectively no fuel costs after the plant is commissioned. Prices of solar and wind technology have dropped year-on-year for the last decade. The total cost of solar- and wind-sourced electricity is now well below the corresponding expenses for electricity from nuclear and coal.

Their extremely low carbon emissions slow global warming and make solar and wind energy environmentally sensitive providing an additional incentive for investors.

Are Renewable Energy Solutions the Answer?

The President’s announcement supports a popularly held belief that Eskom’s capacity constraints can be addressed by the implementation of new renewable energy projects on a massive scale. The total contribution to the grid of all renewables is only likely to reach 11 to 11.5% of the South African national total by the end of 2022. Compared to a country like Germany where renewable energy accounted for 50% of German power consumption in the first quarter of 2022, South Africa lags far behind. This is remarkable as Germany experiences around 60% less solar radiation than South Africa does. Germany had an installed solar capacity in the region of 58,461 megawatts at the end of 2021. South Africa’s total installed power generation capacity, including the coal and nuclear power plants, is 58,095 megawatts. The bulk of South Africa’s power generation still comes from the burning of coal, and we are far behind the global move to clean renewable energy.

Covering the current 6,000 MW capacity shortage requires an estimated minimum of 15,000 MW of new solar and wind generation. The fact that the older large-capacity coal power plants become less and less efficient as they age means the shortfall will grow making the need for the new renewable energy-generating capacity closer to 20,000 MW in the coming five years. In the 2019 electricity plan, the addition of 20,000 MW was expected to take 10 years, double the time required to mitigate the crisis.

While a massive roll-out of renewable energy generation will help significantly in many sectors, mining and heavy industry are reliant on the base load generation that only Eskom can provide. Electricity produced by multiple units at multiple conventional nuclear or coal power stations has substantial inertia. The rotational mass of many turbines weighing tons provides a large degree of stability to utility power that is very difficult to emulate with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Solar and wind power are intermittent at relatively short notice. While wind and hydropower have some inertia, they do not come close to the stability the power stations provide.

South Africa is a water-stressed country, so Eskom has little hydro capacity and relies on its neighbours for additional hydro capacity. The operational capacity of wind and solar depends on the weather. In addition, solar energy production is linked to the day-night cycle. In South African conditions, renewable intermittency would result in a 100 MW solar or wind plant generating around 30% of what an optimally functioning 100 MW coal plant would.

Renewable Energy Solutions – From Utility to Residential Scale

While the government focuses on stimulating the adoption of utility-scale renewable energy solutions, commercial and industrial entities and the person on the street, suffer inconvenience, frustration, and financial losses. This gets worse as the frequency and duration of the outages ramp up. Solar installations in the sub-utility-capacity market are booming and many new entrepreneurs have entered the solar business, particularly in the smaller-capacity section of the market.

Solar power systems become increasingly complex the larger they are in scale but even a residential system must be properly designed and safely installed. With little regulation of installers in the smaller-capacity solar market, one needs to be careful to engage with a reputable vendor who knows what they are doing and will deliver a safe plant that works optimally. While small residential systems are relatively simple, industrial and commercial systems with integrated wind turbines and gensets are technically challenging. They take real engineering expertise and experience to design, commission and optimise.

PacB Power Solutions can draw on a significant track record of successful complex, large-scale, projects in the power provision arena. This includes genset integration with renewable energy solutions. Our in-house renewable energy solutions team offers utility-scale, industrial, commercial, and residential solar solutions. We offer technical expertise and solar power system design suitable for all these sectors. We can successfully create integrated power solutions using renewables and gensets. Call PacB Power Solutions today for your renewable energy solutions or anything to do with power provision.


Our qualified technicians offer support and advice in the selection of the right power solution for your needs by calculating your power requirements.

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