Farmers could be helping Mzansi avoid load shedding even while our agriculture industry gets more internationally competitive, but applications for the building of solar farms are delayed by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) and Eskom.
According to Nicol Jansen, Agri SA chair of the Centre for Excellence: Economics and Trade, the current electricity crisis and load shedding is costing agriculture in a variety of ways. This includes crops that cannot be irrigated for enough hours per day to meet international standards for the export market.
“Agriculture is severely strained by load shedding, but the agricultural sector has a huge potential to help conquer these electricity shortages,” Jansen says.
According to Jansen, there have been about 400 applications from farmers who have showed interest in building solar farms. However, the processes have been delayed within the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) and the public power utility, Eskom.
“Agri SA is trying to get to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, as well as the Minister of Energy, Jeff Radebe, to discuss these problems that we do have within Eskom and NERSA as well as the potential of the agricultural sector. If we can get those applications through, we can stop phase 1 load shedding for the whole of the country,” says Jansen.
To date there are 13 solar farms already connected to the grid. Jansen says these farms have proven that solar farms can work, that it is profitable and that the agricultural sector can use this domain to generate electricity for their own use and give excess electricity to the grid.
He says some areas have shown more interest than others. “The interest is all over the country, especially the Northern Cape in the irrigation areas. All the electricity intensive areas are very interested in providing for themselves for own-use electricity generation capacity.”
Solar farming requires a significant outlay of capital to erect and fund the power generating farms. For farmers, having their own solar farm makes it more profitable to generate their own electricity than to buy it from Eskom. The plant can fund itself over five to eight years.
Both South Africa and the farming industry can benefit through these solar installations, says Jansen.
“In terms of the agricultural sector it lowers your cost of electricity and makes you more competitive in terms of the international market that you have to compete in. In terms of the country it takes a lot of load off the grid. We can have a 1000 Mega Watts of self-generation if all the applications can go through”.
That equals about one fifth of the generating capacity of the Khusile coal-powered power station. It is enough electricity to prevent stage 1 load shedding in the country.