Presently Eskom allows consumer connections to the Medium-Voltage (above 1 000 V) Grid – this excludes most small scale generators (typically rooftop Photovoltaic installations) from connecting to the Grid and receiving some form of credit for power generated from these small scale solar power installations.
Exceptions to the above are in Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay whose electricity authorities both allow consumers below 1000 Volts to Grid-Tie and run their electricity meters backwards.
Significantly the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality – which, as an Eskom ‘Agent’, is responsible for administering the area from Gamtoos to Coega including Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch – is the only municipality countrywide match consumers generating power on a one for one basis. i.e. for every unit of power generated by the consumer, the municipality will credit what that unit of power would have cost the consumer. Effectively allowing the consumer to zero their electricity consumption account.
This forward thinking policy from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality has resulted in accelerating the payback time for a Grid Tie installation to around 5 years.
Eskom does allows generator connection to medium- and higher-voltage networks. Only customers connected on Eskom’s medium-voltage and above networks and also those on Eskom’s large power tariffs are currently permitted to connect to the grid and get credits for energy exported, as there are processes, policies, metering, and tariffs in place that enable such connections. All such connections will have to comply with Eskom’s technical standards for interconnection, the requirements of the SA Grid Code, the Distribution Code, and the Renewable Code. The Eskom process for medium-voltage and higher connections is available at http://www.eskom.co.za/Whatweredoing/Pages/Info_Site_For_IPPs.aspx. See also: http://www.eskom.co.za/Whatweredoing/Documents/CustBulletinSPU.pdf
In further good news for hard hit consumers the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), is looking at a framework that would enable homes and businesses to receive credits for feeding surplus power they generate from rooftop solar panels back into the constrained electricity grid.
“There is growing interest from South African electricity customers to install rooftop photovoltaic systems in order to reduce their electricity bill and supplement their consumption,” the Pretoria-based National Energy Regulator of South Africa said in a draft discussion paper to formulate its position on principles, licensing and conditions for installation of small-scale renewable embedded generators. The document was published on 10 December 2014.
The introduction of such a grid tie net metering plan means South Africa, whose sole power utility is struggling to meet demand, would be emulating countries such as Germany, Spain and the US, which have had small-scale renewable generation that included feed-in tariffs or credit programs through banks.
“Their governments also securitized the tariff by government guarantees, which is something that the South African government cannot engage in at this stage with so many programs where guarantees are currently offered,” the paper said.
South Africa has so far procured about 3900 megawatts of capacity through three competitive rounds of bids by independent producers of renewable energy, with about $10 billion invested. That already exceeds the 3725 megawatts initially sought from five bid windows. An additional 3600 megawatts will be sought, the Department of Energy said on December 12.
A net-metering option would see customers billed on consumption minus the amount generated.
Net-energy metering, measured in kilowatt-hours, will be used instead of rand, the regulator said. Each month, the electricity that small-scale generators produce in excess of their own consumption will be sent back to the grid and credited to their accounts for up to one yearly billing cycle, after which any remaining credit is forfeited to the distributor, it said. “This reduces any incentive for the customer to oversize generation with respect to load.”
South Africa’s electricity rates will rise an average 13 percent from April, more than the 8 percent planned, to help the state-owned utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. recover 7.8 billion rand ($665 million) of unbudgeted costs incurred in the three years through March 2013, Nersa said in October.
The proposed net-metering plan is a draft discussion document and no estimates have been given as to when (or if) Eskom will accept the proposals as outlined in the document.
In the interim consumers in forward thinking municipalities that Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch find themselves in are reaping the benefits.
A recent grid-tie installation for a business in Port Elizabeth revealed many more ‘hidden’ benefits:
- The immediate zeroing of the business’ electricity consumption account
- Substantial carbon and tree savings
- A three year write off on capital cost
- The ‘selling’ of electricity to independently metered tenants off of the same supply
- Effectively the business went from having electricity as a cost to having electricity as an income generator.
For example, households with independently metered Granny Flats will also benefit in the same way from recovering the cost of electricity consumed by a tenant.
“In tough times it is wonderful to be able to sell a product that is many things to clients; a planet saver, a potential income generator as well as something that cuts costs and will continue to do so for at least 20 years into the future,” said Alan Straton.
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