Eskom, South Africa’s power utility, faces significant hurdles in its plan to construct 14,000 km of transmission lines over the next decade. The nation lacks the capacity to undertake such a massive infrastructure project, even with the necessary funding.
Eskom Grid Transmission Challenge Building 14000 KM of Lines
Professor Mark Swilling, from Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Sustainability Transitions, explains that South Africa needs to more than triple its current output to meet the demand for grid capacity.
Neglect of Eskom’s grid over the past decade has resulted in capacity constraints. For instance, during Bid Window 5 of the government’s emergency procurement program, 5,200 MW of generation was procured, but only 860 MW was installed due to grid capacity limitations.
Eskom has developed a transmission development plan to address these challenges, which involves investing hundreds of billions of rands to build infrastructure nationwide. The utility aims to construct 14,000 km of transmission lines at an estimated cost of R372 billion over the next decade.
However, this cost has significantly risen due to private sector initiatives in renewable energy projects in areas with insufficient grid capacity.
To execute its transmission development plan, Eskom requires an additional R100 billion in the 2025 financial year, with annual increases up to R170 billion in 2029.
An issue of concern is the mismatch between resource-rich Cape provinces and infrastructure-rich provinces in the country’s northeast. The grid’s future involves a shift of generation capacity towards the Cape provinces, necessitating the construction of 2,300 km of transmission lines annually.
Currently, South Africa only builds 400 km of lines per year, with the maximum annual length built in the 1990s reaching 1,800 km.
Swilling emphasizes that South Africa’s main challenge is not funding, as the private sector is willing to invest in grid upgrades. Instead, the primary obstacles are the country’s lack of skills, manufacturing capacity, and institutional arrangements needed to blend private and public funding.
The uncertainty stemming from the government’s inconsistent grid expansion policy deters investors and hampers local and international manufacturers from increasing local capacity.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa recently held a seminar with the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange) to discuss private funding of Eskom’s transmission development plan.
The private sector reaffirmed its commitment to assisting the government in addressing the country’s grid capacity constraints. Following the seminar, Ramokgopa will present a report to the Cabinet outlining recommendations for expanding and upgrading the country’s grid.