Nersa to begin hearings on electricity tariffs

The National Energy Regulator of SA, which sets prices and tariffs for power utility Eskom, will on Monday start a series of nationwide public hearings on what South Africans will be paying for electricity.  

Over the course of three weeks, Nersa will hold hearings on what the debt-laden power utility will get to charge for electricity in years ahead, and what it can recoup from shortfalls in 2017/18.

The hearings commence on Monday in Cape Town. The energy price regulator will hear from, among others, Eskom chief financial officer Calib Cassim, a representative of the the SA Local Government Association, advisors to the mining and energy industry, and representatives from The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

The hearings continue in Cape Town on Tuesday, with members of the public set to testify, before moving on to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. 

Hearings will wrap up in Gauteng in late January or early February. The regulator will announce its decision on March 1. 

Eskom announced in October 2018 that it has asked Nersa for a 15% tariff increase per year for the three financial years. The regulator has in the past at times not granted the full tariff increases Eskom has asked for.

Eskom said it wants Nersa to allow revenue of R219bn for 2019/20, R252bn for 2020/21 and R291bn for 2021/22. For this to occur, it would need an increase of 15% a year, said Eskom.

Debt and load shedding

The national power utility is about R420bn in debt and has been seeking ways to reduce its liabilities.

In mid-December President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a task team to advise government on how to resolve the power utility’s operational, structural and financial challenges.  

In late 2018, it was forced to implemented load shedding due to a combination of factors including plant breakdowns, urgent plant maintenance, lower-than-expected output from the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations,and damage to the power transmission lines linking South Africa to the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam in Mozambique.

Although it was able to keep the lights on over Christmas and New Years due to lower demand from business and industry, Eskom has said that load shedding may again be on the cards in early January

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New Technique Makes Electricity-Producing Bacteria More Useful Than Ever

Germ Power

Deeps in mines, at the bottom of lakes, and even in your own gut, bacteria are hard at work producing electricity in order to survive in environments low in oxygen. These potent little power producers have been used in speculative experiments and one day may power everything from batteries to “biohomes.

There are many types of bacteria capable of producing electricity but some are better at it than others. The trouble with these bacteria is that they are difficult and expensive to grow in a lab setting, slowing down our ability to develop new technologies with them. A new technique developed by MIT engineers makes sorting and identifying electricity-producing bacteria easier than ever before which may make them more readily available for us in technological applications.

Dielectrophoresis who?

Electricity-producing bacteria are able to pull off the trick by producing electrons within their cells and releasing them through tiny channels in their cell membranes in a process called extracellular electron transfer, or EET. Current processes for identifying the electricity producing capabilities of bacteria involved measuring the activity of EET proteins but this is a daunting and time consuming process.

Researchers sometimes use a process called dielectrophoresis to separate two kinds of bacteria based on their electrical properties. They can use this process to differentiate between two different kinds of cells, such as cells from a frog and cells from a bird. But the MIT team’s study separated cells based on a much more minute difference, their ability to produce electricity. By applying small voltages to bacteria strains in an hourglass-shaped microfluidic channel the team was able to separate and measure the different kinds of closely related cells.

Amped Up

By noting the voltage required to manipulate bacteria and recording the cell’s size researchers were able to calculate each bacteria’s polarizability — how easy it is for a cell to produce electricity in an electric field. Their study concluded that bacteria with a higher polarizability were also more active electricity producers.

Next the team will begin testing bacteria already thought to be strong candidates for future power production. If their observations on polarizability hold true for these other bacteria, this new technique could make electricity-producing bacteria more accessible than ever before.

READ MORE: Technique identifies electricity-producing bacteria [MIT News]

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Electricity consumption growth should bolster KZN confidence

DURBAN –  The Statistics South Africa data that showed that the growth rate of electricity distribution or consumption doubled to 1% year-on-year (y/y) in the first 11 months of 2018 compared with 0.5% in the whole of 2017, should bolster KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) consumer and business confidence as the only time that electricity consumption growth was higher in recent years was in 2010 when the economy grew by 3%. 

The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president in December 2017 and subsequent euphoria in financial markets was reflected in a 34 point surge in the First National Bank (FNB) / Bureau for Economic Research (BER) Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) to a record +26 in the first quarter 2018. The largest jump in the CCI previously took place in the second quarter 2004, when the CCI soared by 27 points from -7 to +20 after the announcement that South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup Soccer.
The 2017 increase in electricity consumption followed two years of declining consumption as state-owned electricity utility Eskom was unable to meet demand and had to institute rotational load-shedding. Rotational load-shedding normally means a suburb will lose up to two hours a day in a stage 1 situation when Eskom is short 1000 MW or three hours a day in a stage 2 or 2000 MW shortfall event. 
In 2015 national electricity consumption fell by 1.3% and in 2016 it dropped by 1%. This meant that the total annual consumption of 229342 Gigawatt-hours (GWh)in 2017 was less than the 2007 total of 241170 GWh even though the population and the economy grew by more than 10% during this period.
The eleven months 2018 data also shows that Eskom generation declined by 0.3%, so the increase in demand was met by generation provided by Independent Power Producers (IPP). 
The amount produced by IPPs has increased from only 884 GWh in December 2007 to 2,060 GWh in November 2018, when it accounted for 9.7% of total generation. Eskom instituted load-shedding on an intermittent basis since November 29 2018 after the connection with Mozambique broke down and it lost 700 Megawatts of power imports.
There was no load shedding over the Festive Season as many factories shut down for the holiday period, but Eskom has warned that it may have to implement load shedding from January 15 onwards when the factories re-open. 
Hopefully the connection with Mozambique has now been restored and urgent maintenance on aeging power plants has taken place over December, so the dire warnings of load shedding will not take place. It however does not mean that power saving should be abandoned, as the system remains constrained and coal stocks at various power stations are not as much as they should be.

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Sorry SA, but we need more money, Eskom pleads

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe made a desperate plea for higher Eskom tariffs over the next three years on Monday, as well as for more money from the government, while apologising to SA for the mess the utility is in.

Hadebe was speaking in Cape Town at public hearings held by the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) to interrogate Eskom’s application for a 15% tariff increase beginning in 2019-2020.

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Sterling & Wilson plans to build 500MW solar projects in Australia

Sterling & Wilson, an India-based engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services provider for infrastructure and energy sectors, has announced it plans to construct 500MW of solar projects in Australia in the coming three years.

These solar projects would require A$600m ($459m) of investment. The company aims to offset 750,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually by constructing solar power plants.

Sterling & Wilson stated that the solar power projects would generate more than 750 jobs during the construction process.

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