Eskom Distribution launches solar PV microgrid technology at Swartkopdam

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  • In an effort to help South Africa move closer to the goal of universal access to electricity, Eskom Distribution yesterday launched one of its first microgrid technology at Swartkopdam, about 150km from Upington, in the Northern Cape.
  • The electricity networks around the area are constrained and practically impossible to extend and connect the area.

Microgrids provide an effective, reliable, and easily deployable solution for electrifying geographically challenging areas that are either difficult to access or require extensive capital expenditure. The microgrid technology at Swartkopdam will provide electricity to 39 households who did not have access to electricity prior to this project.

Microgrids are used by Eskom as a solution to supplying green power where there are constrained networks, in rural and remote areas, to improve reliability, or as an alternative to avoid costly infrastructure. Microgrids can be a customer owned, partnership owned, or an Eskom owned site.

The installation of the microgrid at Swartkopdam follows successful installations of two pilot microgrid projects at Lynedoch in the Western Cape and Ficksburg in the Free State. Image credit: Eskom

Swartkopdam was identified by Eskom Distribution as one of the high priority needs of the community and due to the remoteness of Swartkopdam, which also has critical facilities embedded in the grid, the microgrid with battery energy storage capability developed by Eskom Research, Testing, and Development (RT&D) was considered the most suitable solution. A feasible conventional solution was to connect Swartkopdam by building a 200km 132kV line from Gordonia substation and establishing Noenieput substation at Noenieput, which was estimated to cost R250 million. This option was considered extremely expensive and was, therefore, not pursued.

“The deployment of the microgrids at Swartkopdam serves as a proof of concept in installing microgrids in remote areas which are difficult to reach or expensive to electrify through the conventional means of electrification. Eskom plans to roll out about 100 microgrids across the country by the end March 2024 as part of the Distribution business strategy,” said Distribution Group Executive, Monde Bala.

“We will continue to close the gap of energy poverty by giving everyone a life changing experience of having electricity” added Bala

Apart from the microgrids being cheaper, they also contribute in reducing carbon emissions because they use renewable energy sources.

“Through innovation and collaborative partnerships, Eskom is able to provide clean and reliable electricity to the people of Swartkopdam,” said Eskom Board Chairman, Mpho Makwana.

“This project serves as reassurance of Eskom’s commitment to assisting the South African government in achieving its objective of ensuring that every South African has access to electricity,” added Makwana.

In addition to the installation of the microgrid and as part of ploughing back to the Swartkopdam community, Eskom isdonating two mobile containers and recreational equipment to the Swartkopdam Primary School. This is central to Eskom’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, which is designed around touching the lives of South Africans. The donation is envisaged to provide a good learning environment for learners and the neighbouring communities.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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