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South Africa’s Smart Grid Vision: A medium for modernising grid network [free access]

September 9, 2019

South Africa’s electricity infrastructure is aged and requires renovation and expansion in order to meet the growing electricity demands across the country and integrate new sustainable energy options. The country is also facing increasing economic challenges with the changing electricity landscape. The national drive for lower-carbon generation options [including renewable energy (RE) and distributed generation] combined with greatly improved efficiency on the demand side necessitate more sophisticated and intelligent network capabilities.


In order to respond to increasing energy demand in an efficient manner, the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) drafted the Smart Grid Vision 2030 as part of the South African Smart Grid Initiative (SASGI) in 2013, which was updated in 2017. SANEDI was established in 2011 to direct, monitor and conduct energy research and development, promote energy research and technology innovation and undertake measures to promote energy efficiency throughout the country.


In general, a smart grid is an electricity network that can intelligently integrate the actions of all users connected to it—generators, consumers and those that do both—in order to efficiently deliver sustainable, economic and secure power supplies.


On the consumer front, it helps potential users to save money as well as reduce their carbon footprint.  Further, a smart grid allows consumers to understand their consumption patterns on a real-time basis and enables remote meter reading. At the distribution grid level, it enables distribution system automation and allows for the integration of RE into the grid.


On the whole, via better monitoring, a smart grid facilitates increased asset utilisation and reduces operational as well as technical losses. It also integrates the power grid, telecommunication systems and information infrastructure.


SANEDI’s Smart Grid Vision 2030 analyses the long-term goals and development objectives for the electricity supply industry in South Africa. The objective of the Vision is to bring together all parties involved in the smart grid industry in order to build a focused, integrated, optimal smart grid network across the country.


Figure 1: Benefits of a smart grid network


Source: Strategic National Smart Grid Vision for the South African Electricity Supply Industry


Key drivers for establishment of a smart grid network  

The country’s electricity industry is going through significant structural changes along with the pressing need for the development of the aging and inadequate electricity infrastructure. Therefore, it is essential to establish an intelligent network so as to create an energy market that is economically, socially and environmentally ethical and robust, keeping in mind the going changes happening across the globe. Following are some of the key drivers for the transformation of South Africa’s grid into a smart network.


Growing energy demand: The electricity demand in the country is forecasted to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 3 per cent till 2030, which will require increasing grid intelligence.


Capacity expansion and diversified mix: In response to the growing electricity demand in South Africa, Eskom Holdings SOC Limited (Eskom), a vertically integrated power utility in the country, has embarked on a generation expansion plan. The power utility plans to increase the share of RE resources in the generation mix by 26 per cent of the total capacity by installing 14 GW of renewable capacity by 2030. With the introduction of RE, independent power producers (IPPs) and distributed points of generation, the complexity of the power network will increase. South Africa’s grid network is currently inadequate and needs to respond to the changing dynamics, making it crucial to build a smarter grid network.


Energy independence and security: The country is electricity independent due to adequate coal supplies. The country also has an abundance of RE resources. Still, the country faces fuel (mainly oil) supply challenges due to rising prices because of the decreasing availability and increasing demands globally. Hence optimal utilisation of the existing resources becomes an essential driver.


Environment and climate change: South Africa’s current energy supply capacity is predominantly fossil fuel-dependent. The country is now leaning towards RE resources (wind and solar) and energy efficient technologies. These changing dynamics will help increase grid functionality and also strengthen the traditional methods used for system planning and operations.


Technology advancement: Over the years, smart grid technologies have made rapid advancements. These technology advancements offer greater capability and choice. Also, technology developments in other associated areas [such as data centres and electric vehicles (EVs)] are increasing the requirement for an intelligent electricity network.


Increased efficiency via grid operations: The transmission network plays a vital role in the optimum utilisation of available electricity resources. The grid network will increase efficiency by supporting multiple integration points for intelligent grid hardware/software from transmission to consumption, deploying advanced two-way communication networks, increasing the supply of renewable and distributed power generation and storage, and providing intelligent support for multiple forms of intermittent renewable power sources (centralised/decentralised).


Advanced customer services: For the end users it will help manage electricity consumption and adjust their usage patterns by providing better information in terms of their usage patterns and managing costs.


Infrastructure reliability and security: The current grid infrastructure is exposed to natural disasters, vandalism and theft. The smart grid can help provide corrective capabilities. Improved intelligence therefore aims to address key issues such as network/systems tolerance for cyber attacks, theft and natural disasters. It also enhances the ability to anticipate and automatically respond to system disturbances.


Figure 2: Key Drivers


Source: SANEDI


Role of generation network

In order to meet the increasing electricity demand, the country has embarked on an enormous generation capacity expansion plan. As per the plan, the major focus will be on the abundant RE resources that the country holds so as to reduce its dependence on depleting fossil fuels.


To this extent, the government has launched several programmes to boost private participation in generation, including the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) and peaker programmes. With the introduction of RE, IPPs and distributed points of generation, power network complexity will increase significantly.


The current grid and technology deployed are inadequate to respond effectively to these variations. Therefore, it is important to improve efficiency. Also, rampant electricity price increases will in turn negatively impact economic activity and growth.


Role of transmission network

The ambitious smart grid plan must be backed by an efficient and reliable transmission system. In line with this, Eskom has prepared a Transmission Development Plan (TDP) for the period 2019–28, under which the utility plans to add approximately 6,500 km of transmission lines and 46,000 MVA of transformer capacity to its grid in the next 10 years.


Usage of advanced digital technology can raise the transmission network to a new level of performance.  Also, Eskom’s extensive RE targets requires development integration of power plants which will be held back until the existing transmission capacity is increased using new technologies such as flexible alternating current transmission system (FACTS), high capacity conductors, advanced storage along with the addition of high voltage direct current (HVDC) and high voltage alternating current (HVAC) lines.


The transmission network must become both smarter and bigger, hence it becomes imperative to build the transmission network in a timely manner, which remains a key strategic issue.


Role of distribution network

The focus of the current smart grid plan is on the distribution component of the electricity sector. Currently, South Africa’s distribution network is facing numerous challenges, which will affect the sustainability of the industry and the ability to provide reliable service to its customers.


Majority of the existing distribution network is not designed to accommodate distributed generation, renewable solutions, or electric vehicles. In addition, the current grid is vulnerable to cyber attacks and natural disasters. Also, with increasing population and industrialisation, the demand for electricity is forecast to increase substantially towards 2030.


To overcome the above mentioned challenges and fully utilise smart grid technologies, it is crucial to develop, modernise and upgrade the existing distribution network in the country, especially as over the next few years the electricity distribution operating environment will change significantly and the EV industry will start expanding.


Key projects

Below are some of the key projects that are being implemented by SANEDI to establish a smart grid network in the country.


Active Network Management Project: The project demonstrates the systems and processes that are required to manage the integration of IPPs into the distribution grid, and the bi-directional metering and billing of such integration. The objective of the project is to document the systems and process required by utilities to manage small-scale embedded generators within their grid.


Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) in Residential and Commercial Customer Base Project: AMI focuses on piloting the systems and processes needed to dispense Free Basic Electricity (FBE) to 1,000 customers, implement Inclining Block Tariff (IBT) for selected customers and a Time of Use (TOU) tariff in customer base, and finally use the demand load limiting method to enable households in a wider area to run essential loads as opposed to applying total blackouts in smaller areas on a rotational basis. The efficiency of this method is another way to mitigate widespread load-shedding.


Advanced Asset Management (AAM) Project: AAM aims to address the maintenance and refurbishment backlogs within the distribution grids of municipalities. The challenge is required to be addressed in a smarter and more economical way than the business as usual approach.


Revenue Enhancement Project: SANEDI introduced this programme in order to reduce the debt owed to Eskom by municipalities. It will focus on revenue enhancement by using technology as an enabler for change. The project will use AMI or smart grid concepts to address revenue challenges within municipalities. The objective is to give a municipality the technical ability to manage its customer base effectively, thereby reducing technical and non-technical losses, hence improving revenue collection and over time placing the municipality in a more sustainable position.


European Union (EU) Donor-funded Smart Grids Programme: South Africa’s Department of Energy (DoE), SANEDI, and the EU Programme formulated smart grid plans that focus on distribution of generation, municipality revenue enhancement, energy efficiency demand side management and asset management. The aim of these pilot projects is to exhibit the value proposition of smart grids within each priority area and also to allow an understanding of the business case and implementation lessons learned. These projects are being implemented in nine municipalities — eThekwini, Nala , Naledi, Govan Mbeki,  Thabazimbi, Mogale City, City Power, Msunduzi and Nelson Mandela Bay.


The way forward

With the development of a smart grid plan, the electricity network is expected to bring additional benefits to the residents of South Africa via improved quality of power supply, accurate billing and better management of energy consumption.


In order to reap the full benefits of the planned smart gird network, Eskom must work extensively on the country’s outdated power infrastructure. Hence, the priority must be to modernise the existing transmission and distribution (T&D) network, not only to make it compatible with smart grid technologies but also to meet the growing electricity demand.


An intelligent electricity network will facilitate the integration of RE, support national energy objectives and the transition towards a low-carbon economy. The Smart Grid Vision focuses on achieving the benefits of a smarter grid network, keeping in mind the changing technological dynamics.