Eskom moving into e-mobility through microgrids and energy storage
Written by: Theresa Smith
Eskom is throwing its weight behind the development of e-mobility in South Africa by getting involved on the charging infrastructure side.
Speaking at last week’s Africa’s Green Economy Summit, Eskom Group Executive for Distribution Monde Bala said the utility is working on both a short and long term strategy for energy decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation.
Casting its eye on the future, Eskom has aligned itself with the Just Energy Transition “not only because we need to move away from polluting sources of energy, but we really need to ensure its sustainable and we carry our communities with us,” said Bala.
He reiterated the utility’s support of the Integrated Resources Plan “with its aspiration towards a greener future of the energy mix of the country. We are also committed to facilitating connections for renewables onto the grid.”
He said the distributor’s job is to “accelerate that connection and ensure there is a non-discriminatory access onto the grid, to connect renewables.”
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Go Green Africa
The Group Executive: Distribution said Eskom signed up as founding partner to the Go Green Africa initiative to accelerate Africa’s just energy transition because they have the aspiration and strategy to move South Africa towards a net-zero emissions position by 2050.
“We want to accelerate the transition to green energy and empower the transition. We need to ensure we take our communities with us,” emphasised Bala.
Admitting that grid constraints lie at the heart of Eskom’s challenges he says they are looking into how to sort that out as well as dealing with challenges to Bid Window 6 applicants to ensure all available renewable energy capacity is brought onto the national grid.
“We are facilitating a liberalised energy market and the decentralisation of that market. What we see is that energy sources are going to be more and more decentralised, closer to loads, close to consumers…
“That presents its own challenges in terms of managing the stability of the grid, ensuring we make sure everyone has access. We are also looking at modern smart grids to ensure the consumer has more control.
“In partnering with the country and the continent to enable a cleaner and open energy market, when we talk about Eskom we do think loadshedding, but beyond that – are there opportunities and solutions we can put together?” asked Bala..
When speaking about urban #sustainability and the #greeneconomy, one cannot hide from the fact that Africa’s urban population is expected to double again between 2020 and 2050. https://t.co/VVkelSdIuw @GreenEcoSummit pic.twitter.com/2AUBoAb5No— ESI Africa (@ESIAfrica) March 2, 2023
Generating units back online, but others go dark. #Renewables show 1,958MW support & message from Eskom is that #loadshedding is a last resort to protect the grid from total collapse. Read more here: https://t.co/8E4oBFFvLg via @ESIAfrica— Nicolette Pombo 🌍 (@nicolettepombo) March 1, 2023
Embracing and enabling e-mobility
He said their focus now has to be to work towards become an enabler of a positive future, and that includes embracing e-mobility, using more energy storage systems such as batteries and developing technologies to help far-flung rural communities.
“How do we empower the consumer to be able to harness the energy that currently exists, to accelerate the roll-out of the rooftop solar? Our customer will become a producer in their own right in that they are able to sell back the electricity coming off their roof, onto the grid. So, they become part of the value chain,” said Bala.
Eskom has already submitted the residential time-of-use (ToU) charging tariff to the National Energy Regulator of Africa (Nersa) for approval. This will also enable EV owners to achieve significant savings when using the off-peak and standard periods to charge their cars, encouraging EV uptake and boosting electricity sales.
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Bala said Eskom was proud that they helped to pilot the Nissan Leaf a decade ago but their move into e-mobility at scale in the near-future would be around infrastructure.
“In terms of charging infrastructure we want to be at the centre of that. We want to ensure, in terms of the benefits of e-mobility, we want to create a bi-directional flow of energy. We want to use vehicles as batteries, in a way that we can offset some of the peak load when we have a shortage,” he explained.
Eskom has started a pilot project to electrify their own fleet of around 13,000 vehicles. They will eventually seek out partners to roll out public charging stations at Eskom sites, and these would eventually become accessible to the public.
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Getting into the microgrid game to support e-mobility
Eskom showed off its microgrid technology and mobility solutions at E-Fest over the weekend. They have started rolling out containerised microgrid technology.
In terms of microgrid application, they are concentrating on rural areas that are far from the main grid. “More important, we are looking at mainly informal and formal areas, where the cushion against loadshedding has become an issue, both grid-tied and off-grid.”
Eskom is currently managing four sites powered by microgrid technology in Ficksburg (Free State), Lynedoch (Western Cape) and Swartkop (Northern Cape). The containers supply renewable electricity to more than two hundred households, a police station and businesses in the area. Eskom is conducting feasibility studies on more than 80 project sites around the country.
Most of the identified sites will use solar PV as primary source of energy and lithium-ion batteries for storage capability. Other sites will use micro wind turbines and small-scale hydro turbines, based on the most optimum energy source available. The rollout of these projects will be phased over the next 5 years.
The deployment of the microgrids at Swartkop and Ficksburg serve as a proof of concept in use of microgrids in remote areas which are difficult to reach or expensive to electrify through the conventional means of electrification.
On the other hand, the microgrid at Lynedoch residential area demonstrates how this technology can be used to complement the grid, serving as backup electricity supply to households, hospitals and other facilities. As an added advantage, microgrids contribute to reducing carbon emissions because they use renewable sources.
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Energy storage systems
Eskom is currently running two projects to deploy distributed battery energy storage in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Eastern Cape. “It is our understanding that the technology is improving, and the price is coming down, so it remains part of the technology solutions of the future,” said Bala.
Eskom sees battery energy storage as a key enable of e-mobility. They are making progress with the construction of their first energy storage facility at Elandskop BESS in KZN. ESI
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