The need for flexible energy systems and renewables
Attributed to Rentia van Tonder, Head of Power, and Greg Fyfe, Head of Energy & Infrastructure Finance at Standard Bank
The past few months have highlighted the need for Africa to develop flexible energy systems in which renewables and decentralised technologies play a far larger role. The pandemic has led to a global decline in electricity demand as commercial and industrial activity slows and people work from home.
In South Africa, for example, electricity demand reduced by as much as 7,500MW on average in March and April – the height of the national lockdown. In response, power stations were taken out of service to keep the system stable.
However, demand has been recovering in most African states as economies are reopened. Considering that numerous African countries entered the crisis with a shortfall of energy supply, governments will need to procure more power in the months ahead. The fastest and most cost-effective way to address the supply gap is through more flexible technologies eg. renewable power projects – meaning the crisis may prompt African nations to deploy renewables at a much faster rate than before. Given that renewables are currently the most economically viable source of energy in most countries, we expect that the COVID-19 crisis will accelerate the pace at which these technologies are adopted on the continent, with hydro, wind and solar being the most attractive technologies.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables are the only energy source set for growth in demand in 2020, with solar and wind generators best placed to weather the storm due to cost competitiveness and the flexibility they offer – renewables are able to adjust more easily to fluctuations in demand. In this respect, the renewables segment is proving its resilience in the face of a crisis, and this further strengthens the case for economic recovery strategies to be underpinned by investments in renewable energy. Increasing the participation of renewable technologies in the energy mix will also ensure a more flexible system in general.