As South Africa moves to evolve its regulatory environment to accommodate renewable-energy inputs into the national grid, so too does the likelihood of a long-term evolution to the exclusive use of smart electricity grids to manage energy consumption in the country’s metropoles.
While acknowledging that there remained “lots of red tape” in the smart metering industry – arguably the first phase of the move to an envisaged smart grid – engineering and management firm EES operations director Jacob Cronje said on Wednesday that, with multistakeholder buy-in, the evolution to such a system was possible.
Smart meters were being used increasingly to monitor water and energy use, assisting businesses and residential customers with bills based on actual rather than estimated consumption.
However, the new smart grid would need to be “built around” the apartheid-era electricity grid, which remained characterised by several points of energy generation and a vast network that was designed to carry “cheap” power to the entire country.
“In contrast, the smart grid would allow consumers to use energy that had been generated nearby rather than it being transported thousands of kilometres, It would also allow energy consumers to choose the vendor from which they wished to purchase the energy – renewable or otherwise,” Cronje said at the Sustainable Energy Seminar, which formed part of Sustainability Week, in Pretoria.
He added that a smart grid was defined as an evolved electrical grid system that managed electricity demand in a sustainable, reliable and economic manner and was built on “advanced” infrastructure.
“It does not simply comprise a smart meter,” Cronje noted.
For the concept to be successful, it required buy-in from four key stakeholder groups; government, the utilities, vendors – which would ultimately be responsible for selling the power – and consumers.
Elaborating on the benefits of a smart grid, Cronje explained that it would enable the efficient delivery of energy, create capacity for the integration of renewables, enable cost control using the smart meter and stimulate a new industry.
However, significant barriers to its development remained, which Cronje said included financing challenges, a lack of regulations and public perception.
“Government will need to create supportive regulation for the smart grid, such as allowing vendors to sell electricity from independent power producers. It has already shown its willingness to move towards this system, with the extensive roll-out of smart meters in Johannesburg,” he concluded.