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Load-shedding is clearly not going away any time soon because of Eskom’s increasingly ageing fleet. In the medium term it is highly likely that things will only get worse.
The City of Cape Town urgently needs to give “power to the people” by helping residents generate their own power. Vietnam has set the standard by installing a staggering 9.5GW of rooftop solar, distributed to more than 110,000 homes, in a single year!
Compare this to our coal-burning Medupi and Kusile power stations, which are hundreds of billions of taxpayer’s money over budget and eight years late, and will only produce 4GW when they are finally completed.
For home solar to work in Cape Town, the council must first lower its artificially high electricity prices and rejig the municipal budget to put more weight on rates than electricity sales. The city currently makes a huge profit (or surplus, as it prefers to call it) from selling on Eskom power to us. However, if electricity was not so profitable and the city not so dependent on electricity sales for income, it wouldn't view efforts by ratepayers to save electricity as competition, as currently seems to be the case. Instead, the city could then support moves towards a more distributed load-shedding-resilient grid.
For Cape Town home solar feed-in to work the city needs to drop the R15,000 fee it currently charges for connecting bidirectional flow equipment to the grid. It also needs to drop the R150 or so monthly registration fee for feed-in, and instead of offering a 50% electricity credit for feeding into the grid — which makes little sense because why would people who generate their own power want electricity credits from the city anyway — the city should either buy power in cash or at least offer a rates rebate.
And since so much power is consumed by geysers — up to 70% of a poor household’s bill is geyser costs — Cape Town should offer a decent rates rebate for those who wish to install solar geysers. Thousands of extra solar-powered geysers would go a long way towards alleviating pressure on our grid.
Distributing power to the people creates greater resilience. It would save the city a fortune in ratepayers money it wouldn't have to spend. It could be quickly implemented and grow the local solar installation market, bringing down prices. Let’s remember that the city belongs to all of us, and these solutions are better than the alternative, which is ever-worsening load-shedding.
The national government could also come to the party by reducing or removing VAT and excise duties on solar and battery equipment, but expecting it to do anything progressive has sadly proved a long shot in the past.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.