/ 14 June 2023

China offers to help South Africa with power crisis

Solar Energy
The Chinese government has offered to donate South Africa solar panels and generators that can be installed at public institutions to prevent power disruptions

The Chinese government has offered to donate South Africa solar panels and generators that can be installed at public institutions to prevent power disruptions, said Chen Xiaodong, China’s ambassador to South Africa.

Speaking during the China-South Africa New Energy Investment and Cooperation Conference on Tuesday, he said China would provide Eskom with renewable energy equipment to help it deal with the energy crisis.

Xiaodong said China’s response was in honour of its relationship and partnership with South Africa as part of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

China is South Africa’s largest trading partner, followed by the United States. In 2022, China accounted for 9.4% of South Africa’s exports and 20.2% of South Africa’s imports, according to the South African Revenue Service.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said the electricity grid has the capacity for an additional 66 gigawatts of renewable energy. He added that the equipment from the Chinese government will help cover the expenses South Africa would incur if it received power from private companies.

Ramokgopa said the equipment from China will help the utility cater for the high court order to exempt hospitals and schools from load-shedding. The government has recently filed papers for leave to appeal this ruling, saying it would be impossible to implement.

Ramokgopa said Eskom was in the process of stabilising the national grid. A recent grid connection capacity assessment showed that up to 2024 there was capacity to connect about 32 000 megawatts of new generation to the grid, but only about 5 000 megawatts in those provinces that have so far been viewed as having the best wind and solar resources. 

This ties into the problem Ramokgopa has noted, that the grid doesn’t have the capacity to accept new renewable projects.

He said the next bidding window for independent power producers will be issued in the second and fourth quarter of this financial year ending on March 31 2024.

Solar power projects will be available in Mpumalanga and wind power in the Northern Cape.

Ramokgopa said he expects more than 5.5 gigawatts of additional renewable energy projects to come online by 2026.

He added that the government has been working on interventions such as providing generators or solar photovoltaic and battery systems that are necessary to ensure continued power supply. This includes working with provincial governments and quantifying how much money would be required for these interventions.

Ramokgopa said that part of the interventions include putting out a request for proposal (RFP) to supply Gourikwa power station in Mossel Bay and the Ankerlig power station in Atlantis with natural gas. 

The two power stations run on diesel, but have been converted so they can also use natural gas. Eskom hopes to switch from diesel to gas by December 2027.

“The intent is to have a gas main feedstock, which will be supplemented by diesel as and when it’s required,” Eskom stated in tender documents published this week. 

Ramokgopa added that Eskom is hoping that gas will be a cheaper and more environmentally friendly source of fuel for the two stations than diesel.

He also announced that South Africa has signed a deal with Mozambique to help stabilise South Africa’s power grid.

On Monday, Ramokgopa met Carlos Zacarias, Mozambique’s minister of mineral resources and energy, at the Union Buildings on Monday and later confirmed that South Africa will get 100 megawatts from the neighbouring country.

“For now, we will get 100 megawatts and another 600 megawatts in six months’ time,” said Ramokgopa.

He said there had been a reduction in unplanned losses to less than 16 000 megawatts from more than 18 000 megawatts and planned maintenance had been reduced to about 2 500 megawatts, resulting in a reduction in load-shedding.

“Generation available from wind power has increased due to weather conditions in the coastal regions. Peak demand is averaging less than 29 000 megawatts, compared to 30 000 megawatts projected in the first week of June,” he said.

This article was updated to correct an error about the amounts gigawatts China would help with.

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.