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Eskom embarks on its battery energy storage programme

Eskom has launched the first part of an ambitious, large-scale, national, distributed battery energy storage system on the outskirts of Worcester in the Western Cape.

“In our view batteries are going to play a fundamental role in how the whole electricity supply industry evolves.”

– Monde Bala

The Hex battery storage project is the first part of the Eskom battery energy storage system (BESS) rollout scheduled for construction in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The 20MW Hex BESS project of lithium-ion batteries is situated at Eskom’s substation in the Western Cape.

Table Source: Eskom.

Speaking to ESI Africa from a visit to Koeberg Power Station, Eskom Distribution Group Executive Monde Bala said this is the beginning of a two-phased programme to establish 199MW (phase 1) plus 144MW (phase 2) of battery storage to mitigate loadshedding in the short term.

Table Source: Eskom.

In the long term, the battery storage plus solar power project will help South Africa diversify its existing energy mix as it pursues the low-carbon future mandated by the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The Hex BESS project has just about finished construction. “It is around 95% complete. Commissioning will take place in the next couple of weeks,” said Bala.

Battery energy storage system for loadshedding mitigation

The Hex battery project will eventually incorporate a 60MW solar PV plant component, but for now, it will charge power from the Eskom grid. “We will charge batteries through the grid, ideally during off-peak. It’s a time when the wind is howling in the Western Cape, at 2am. That is the whole idea, to charge in off-peak to discharge during loadshedding,” he explained.

The primary function originally mooted for the BESS rollout, when planning started years ago, was to deal with peak shaving and peak shifting, but now with the intensification of loadshedding, the priority has shifted slightly.

Have you read?
EAF and loadshedding to remain a problem for medium term

“At the time… the grid was available, and there were no issues around the grid being congested.

“I think the uses and opportunities will change over time as and when the supply situation changes in the country.

“At this point, the key issue, which talks to the location of the facilities, is to look at CAPEX deferment and also the availability of energy as an ancillary service.”

Hex battery project. Image Source: Eskom.

Site selection: BESS rollout around South Africa

Eskom has identified 12 sites, located close to existing substations, for their battery energy storage programme rollout. Selecting the locations meant considering factors such as the presence of network limitations, extended duration for land acquisition, absence of Environmental Impact Assessment complications and closeness to renewable energy sources.

Image Source: Eskom.

Bala said the next BESS project that should come online would be Pongola, in KwaZulu Natal. “And, then after that, Elandskop.”

Batteries play a role in the evolution of SA’s electricity supply industry

While the immediate concern may be to mitigate loadshedding, Bala says the utility sees future battery storage projects playing a role in the effective curtailment of renewable energy from existing wind and solar farms to free up grid capacity in the medium term.

“Ideally, when we have got a battery energy storage system fully deployed, then we would not need to curtail. When we do not need production, then we would charge up the batteries so then when we do require the power, we dispatch from the batteries.”

Of reference
Expanding the transmission grid to make room for more generation capacity

Bala told ESI Africa the issue of dispatchability “becomes quite key” to Eskom’s decision to pursue battery storage technology. “It allows you to store energy from really low-cost energy sources and then you can dispatch when it makes economic sense, or when it is really required.

“Whether local, regional or on a bigger regional scale, that is presenting an opportunity.”

But whatever the time frame, Bala said Eskom considers battery storage technology as an “integral part of the future distribution landscape.”

Of interest
What will stimulate large-scale BESS deployment in Africa?

“Batteries is going to be what we do. As things stand there’s a significant amount of immediately available capacity, except we cannot store it. So, in our view batteries are going to play a fundamental role in how the whole electricity supply industry evolves.”

“Yes, we do have aspirations of extending this system to future phases. There are some issues to resolve, like how to fund the expansion of the technology. We are looking at different funding models and issues [like] strategic partnerships,” said Bala. ESI

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ESI Africa
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