South Africa is one of the cheapest power producer, so the country provides electricity for other countries on the African continent. However, the national supply is not sufficient anymore to meet the demand, especially during peaks hours. Actually, less electricity was produced in South Africa in 2014 compared with 2013. Data shows that national electricity production has been in decline after peaking in 2011, highlighting the country’s continued struggle to keep the lights on.
The decline in the volume of electricity generated has been offset, albeit slightly, by purchases of electricity from neighbouring countries. The annual volume of electricity imported into South Africa increased by 18,6%, from 9 428 GWh in 2013 to 11 177 GWh in 2014, which represents 5% of the national consumption. Exports of electricity, however, remained stable: in 2013, the country exported 13 929 GWh of electricity, decreasing by only 0,7% to 13 836 GWh in 2014. (source: http://www.statssa.gov.za/)
In order to avoid load shedding as much as possible, and to prevent an entire electricity grid breakdown, Eskom is buying electricity from Namibia and Mozambique.
“We are currently exporting up to 200MW of electricity to South Africa,” said Werner Graupe, senior manager for energy trading at NamPower (Eskom’s equivalent for Namibia). “The electricity comes from our Ruacana hydropower plant on the Kunene River bordering Angola. Due to the good rains in the area, particularly in southern Angola, the Kunene River flows strongly, sometimes at 300 cubic metres per second, driving the turbines at the power plant, and we can export up to 200MW off-peak,” said Graupe.
South Africa also used to import electricity from the Cahora Bassa hydropower station in Mozambique and will do so again once the transmission line is repaired. There is also the potential to import more hydropower from countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and DRC. If this happens, South Africa could become less dependent on coal-fired power stations.
Indeed, Eskom is mostly producing electricity from coal-fired power stations, and Eskom’s production represents 95% of what is consumed in South Africa. Diversifying the production is now one of the government’s priorities, so importing energy is a solution, but the real deal remains the development of renewable energy, especially since South Africa has a strong potential for it (wind, high level of sunshine…). So the government is implementing plenty of new solar parks all over the country. You can read more about it here.
The Minister of Energy has determined that 3 725 megawatts (MW) to be generated from Renewable Energy sources is required to ensure the continued uninterrupted supply of electricity. In order to make it happen, the government implemented around 6 years ago the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (REIPP) Procurement Programme. By being an official REIPP, the independent producer can then sell overpower to the grid, and so contribute to prevent load shedding from happening in South Africa.