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City of Cape Tow vs Eskom



South Africa’s energy system is dominated by coal, one of the most carbon intensive and polluting fossil fuels. Over 85% of the energy generated in South Africa has been generated from coal  However, one city is rebelling against this carbon intensive strategy. Cape Town’s Small Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) programme is aiming to reduce the carbon intensity of the city by promoting rooftop solar and small wind turbines. In order to achieve this however, the city of Cape Town first had to come up against the state owned monopoly that stopped industrious South Africans from selling their own electricity back to the grid. 


How does the SSEG programme work?


Owners of rooftop solar panels or wind turbine systems are able to connect their electricity to the grid and sell it when their electricity generation goes beyond their needs in exchange for credit. This creates a clear financial incentive which helps to reduce dependence on fossil fuels when there are good conditions for renewable generation. 


Additionally, being able to connect to the grid simplifies domestic energy infrastructure as there is no need for battery systems to store electricity as the grid can serve a similar function. 


City of Cape Town vs Eskom


The centre-right Democratic Alliance party (DA), which has long dominated Cape Town politics, saw small-scale electricity generation as a way to combat power outages in the country. In 2017, it announced its intention to take the national energy minister to court to gain the right as a city to buy electricity directly from independent power producers as well as  the state owned power supplier Eskom.


Cape Town’s action arose because Eskom has repeatedly faced challenges keeping up with energy demands as the population in the city has grown. Even when Eskom was able to keep up with electricity demand, the associated tariff became prohibitive as it increased almost five times between 2009 and 2018. This court action was successful and meant that producers of small scale electricity generators could sell their excess electricity to the grid. By opening the electricity grid up to competition, Cape Town has reduced the price of electricity as well as the number of electricity blackouts. 


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