Exclusive interview with Andrew Etzinger, Eskom spokesperson in the run-up to the annual African Utility Week and Clean Power Africa at the CTICC in Cape Town from 13-14 May. Eskom has been a long-time supporter of the event and recently signed a five-year host utility agreement.
1) If there is one thing that you would like the public out there to know about Eskom that is not well known, what would it be?
Eskom is well respected internationally, and is ‘world class’ in many respects. In particular, despite the load shedding of 6 March, Eskom has withstood the extreme weather events of summer far better than other utilities around the globe.
2) How has the public (residential and business) responded to Eskom’s calls to reduce the use of electricity?
Our awareness programme and incentive programmes have seen a very good response. We audit the impact, and it is clear that load shedding would be the order of the day if the electricity reduction were not made
3) We heard that after Earth Hour on 29 March, South Africans saved 575 MW of electricity - enough electricity to power a city the size of Polokwane – is Eskom planning to incentivise people to do this on a regular/permanent basis?
Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture by homeowners and businesses to indicate that they support the call for more environmentally friendly lifestyles and technology choices. We continue the message through our marketing campaigns (“Live Lightly”, 49m and “Beat the Peak”)
4) What innovative Integrated Demand Management solutions does Eskom promote for efficient energy use?
Eskom has developed a broad range of incentive programmes aimed at encouraging the adoption of energy efficient technologies, appliances and equipment. The smallest home to the largest industrial plant have had the opportunity to participate in these programmes over the past two years. Substantial electricity savings have been achieved as a result of the strong uptake enjoyed. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, the incentive programmes are currently on hold.
5) The African renewables sector is steadily growing - where does Eskom envision solar and wind thirty years from now on the generation roadmap?
Solar PV will be a ubiquitous technology around the world. Many customers will use the technology to meet a portion of their own electricity needs as well as sell power back to the grid. Wind powered capacity will grow steadily through technological advancements resulting in larger systems and off-shore wind farms.
6) South Africa does not have much hydro potential - is this something Eskom is pursuing in terms of small and pica hydro schemes?
Not in South Africa. The meaningful hydro potential lies elsewhere in Southern Africa and Africa. Not in South Africa. The Zambezi and the Congo Rivers offer the best hydro potential in the region. There are a few projects planned along both rivers and Eskom is looking to play a determinant role in all these projects. Eskom would like to participate as an off-taker and investor in the projects and actively supports transmission expansion in Southern Africa to enable the viability of these projects.
7) What can you share from the recent visit to the Grand Inga hydro scheme?
The Congo River has the second strongest flow after the Amazon and at the Inga site it has the best site in the world for a hydro power station. It can produce about 40 000 MW of power. Harnessing this site to develop a power station and supply the continent would be the best thing to do and in this regard the DRC and South African governments have signed a treaty to develop the first phase of the project which is 4 800 MW. Power will be shared by the whole region. The African Development Bank and the World Bank are the lead banks in supporting the studies about development of this project. The DRC government intends to continue with the procurement process such that it is able to award to the winning company the concession status in the near future. Negotiations are continuing between the DRC and the South African government on the off-take arrangements. Power from the Congo River will transform the economic landscape of the region and support Eskom’s move to blend its emissions.
8) Some industries have concerns around the quality of energy being provided; what message does Eskom have in this regard?
Eskom is aware that quality of supply is as important as continuous supply for many industries, particularly those in manufacturing of high cost products. Quality of supply on the Eskom grid is, in general, good. There are instances where power factor, dips and harmonics are not within acceptable levels. In such cases we are working to correct the problems with our municipal counterparts.
9) What is Eskom's message on the water-energy-food nexus?
Eskom plays a pivotal role in the nexus, being the largest producer of energy and the consumer of water. Furthermore Eskom serves 84 393 agricultural customers. Ironically in South Africa the natural coal fields generally coincide with the best agricultural soils in the country. The bottom line is that we see the nexus play out vividly, and we are concerned about the sustainability of each element in the nexus. A higher level of water and energy conservation urgently needed to avoid a downward spiral.
10) Eskom has been a partner of African Utility Week for many years - how important is this event on the energy calendar?
As stated by our former CEO: “this conference has become an annual pilgrimage on the calendar of African electricity and water utilities”.
11) What will be Eskom's main message at AUW this year?
“Africa has an abundance of primary energy sources ranging from hydro, solar, gas (conventional and unconventional) uranium and coal that could easily meet the needs of the continent and beyond in a sustainable manner. The abundance of renewable resources – especially hydro and solar is unprecedented anywhere else in the world. There is the potential really for Africa to shine. We need to take advantage of those resources to develop the economies of the region and extend access to electricity in a sustainable way”.
12) What has been the most surprising thing about working for Eskom/in this industry?
Until two years ago South Africa and Eskom have not pursued the global trends of privatisation nor the introduction of a competitive market to any great extent. Since then, the traditional utility model has been shaken up by the signing of significant quantities of renewable IPP capacity, customer owned generation (such as rooftop PV), smart grid initiatives between municipalities and the willingness of certain municipalities to buy power produced by customers who produce more than they need at certain times of the day. I have been pleasantly surprised by the snowball effect of these changes, which are breathing new life into our industry.