Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, the South African Minister of Electricity, is setting his sights on the far East, as he is scheduled to embark on a research expedition to Vietnam this week. The objective? To uncover potential solutions to the ongoing issue of load shedding that plagues Eskom, South Africa’s largest power utility.
Vietnam’s Energy Feats: A Role Model for Eskom?
From an outsider’s perspective, Vietnam’s achievement in the energy sector is no less than a marvel. The country has multiplied its total installed electricity capacity by a factor of ten within just two decades. In the year 2000, it stood at 5,000 MW, and by 2020, it had soared to an impressive 55,000 MW, currently further blooming to 69,000 MW.
Yet, the journey hasn’t been without its speed bumps. Vietnam’s state-run utility company, the Electricity of Vietnam, has been grappling with a wave of rolling power cuts over the last month. Despite the impressive capacity, extreme weather conditions have led to a surge in electricity consumption.
Learning from the Best: Ramokgopa’s Quest for Renewable Energy Solutions
Nevertheless, Ramokgopa is convinced that there are valuable lessons to be learned from Vietnam’s approach. His primary interest lies in the country’s implementation of a feed-in tariff policy. This policy incentivizes renewable energy investment by compensating producers or users for transferring excess electricity back to the grid.
According to Ramokgopa, Vietnam’s grid capacity expansion within a year has been an “exceptionally good story,” largely attributed to the effective exploitation of the feed-in tariff. In fact, this policy has enabled Vietnam to infuse an additional 9.5 GW onto the grid. But this success also presents a new problem: an unstable grid due to generation vastly exceeding demand.
Understanding the Vietnamese Energy Landscape: Not All that Glitters is Gold
The Vietnamese energy sector presents a complex paradox: a surplus and a shortage of energy coexist. The grid’s current capabilities fall short of transferring the enormous volumes of solar energy generated in sun-soaked coastal provinces to energy-needy cities and industrial zones. This has led to drastic measures such as switching off street lights and shifting industries’ operations to off-peak hours.
Compounding the problem are critically low levels in hydropower reservoirs due to drought conditions and disrupted operations at thermal power plants owing to delayed coal imports.
Are Vietnam’s Energy Solutions Transferable to South Africa?
In light of these challenges, energy experts are questioning the feasibility of Ramokgopa’s plans. They point out that Vietnam’s specific challenges may not mirror those of South Africa.
Energy expert Lungile Mashele, who has spent time in Vietnam, suggests that while Vietnam’s solar power and attractive feed-in tariff could be valuable lessons for South Africa, the country’s unique load pattern and demand-supply discrepancy may not apply to the South African context. Furthermore, Vietnam’s recent initiation of evening blackouts due to insufficient supply indicates potential pitfalls of solely relying on solar power.
Another energy authority, Adil Nchabeleng, raises questions on the overall effectiveness of international visits for addressing domestic problems. Nchabeleng emphasizes the need for strategic decision-making at Eskom’s board and management level to repair the dysfunctional power plants and cease load shedding within three months.
While Ramokgopa’s initiative to seek international solutions is commendable, the urgency lies in addressing the core issue at hand – repairing Eskom’s power plants. As Nchabeleng artic