Intelligent Network

South Africa’s Smart Grid Vision 2030 aims to transform the electricity landscape

South Africa’s ageing electricity infrastructure requires renovation and expansion in order to meet the growing electricity demands of 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 and distributed generation), combined with greatly improved efficiency on the demand side, necessitate more sophisticated and intelligent network capabilities.

In order to respond to the 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 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 supply.

On the consumer front, it helps potential users 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 system automation and allows for the integration of renewables 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. Its objective is to bring together all parties involved in the smart grid industry to build a focused, integrated, optimal smart grid network across the country.

Key drivers for establishing a smart grid network

The country’s electricity industry is going through significant structural changes along with a pressing need for modernising and expanding the ageing 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 sustainable and robust, keeping in mind the ongoing developments taking place across the globe. The following are some of the key drivers for the transformation of South Africa’s grid into a smart network.

  • Growing energy demand: The country’s electricity demand forecast is to increase at a compound annual growth rate 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, the country’s vertically integrated power utility, has embarked on a generation expansion plan. The utility plans to increase the share of renewable resources in the generation mix by 26 per cent of the total capacity by installing 14 GW of renewable capacity by 2030. With the integration of renewable energy, independent power producers (IPPs) and distributed points of generation, the complexity of the power network will increase. The country’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: South Africa’s energy economy is dominated by coal due to adequate coal supplies. There is also an abundance of renewable energy resources. Still, the country faces fuel (mainly oil) supply challenges due to rising prices following decreasing availability and increasing demands globally. Hence, optimal utilisation of the existing resources is an essential driver.
  • Environment and climate change: South Africa’s current energy supply capacity is predominantly fossil fuel dependent. The country is now leaning more towards renewable energy 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, which offer greater capabilities and wider options. 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: It will help end users manage electricity consumption and adjust their usage 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 at addressing key issues such as network/system tolerance for cyberattacks, theft and natural disasters. It also enhances the ability to anticipate and automatically respond to system disturbances.

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 abundantly available renewable energy resources of the country so as to reduce its dependence on the depleting fossil fuels.

To this end, the government has launched several programmes to boost private participation in generation, including the Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme and peaker programmes. With the increase in renewable energy, IPPs and distributed points of generation, power network complexity will grow significantly.

The current grid and technology deployed are inadequate to respond effectively to these variations. Therefore, it is important to improve efficiency. A significant increase in electricity prices 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 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.

The use of advanced digital technology can raise the transmission network to a new level of performance. Also, Eskom’s extensive renewable energy targets require development integration of power plants, which will be held up unless and until the existing transmission capacity is increased using new technologies such as Flexible Alternating Current Transmission System, high capacity conductors, and advanced storage, along with the addition of high voltage direct current and high voltage alternating current lines. The transmission network must become both bigger and smarter; hence, it becomes imperative to build such a 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 customers.

A major part of the existing distribution network is not designed to accommodate distributed generation, renewable solutions, or EVs. In addition, the current grid is vulnerable to cyberattacks and natural disasters. Also, with the increasing population and growing industrialisation, the demand for electricity is forecast to increase substantially by 2030.

To overcome these challenges and fully utilise smart grid technologies, it is crucial to develop, modernise and upgrade the existing distribution network in the country, and especially 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 an integration. The objective of the project is to document the systems and the process required by utilities to manage small-scale embedded generators within their grid.
  •  AMI in residential and commercial customer base project: Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) focuses on piloting the systems and processes needed to dispense free basic electricity to 1,000 customers, implement inclining block tariff for selected customers and a time-of-use 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.
  • AAM project: Advanced asset management (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.
  • EU donor-funded smart grids programme: South Africa’s Department of Energy, SANEDI and the European Union (EU) formulated smart grid plans that focus on the distribution of generation, municipality revenue enhancement, energy efficient 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 South Africa’s residents through improved quality of power supply, accurate billing and better management of their energy consumption.

In order to reap the full benefits of the planned smart grid network, Eskom must work extensively on the country’s outdated power infrastructure. Hence, the priority must be to modernise the existing transmission and distribution 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 renewable energy, and support national energy objectives and the transition towards a low-carbon economy. The Smart Grid Vision 2030 focuses on achieving the benefits of a smarter grid network, keeping in mind the changing technological dynamics.


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