Electricity wheeling (wheeling) is the act of transporting electricity from a generator to a remotely located end-user using an existing distribution or transmission system. This may also be done across multiple distribution networks, such as through a national utility company and/or a local municipality. Wheeling allows locations with ample space to be utilized to unlock significant opportunities for increasing generation from distributed renewable plants in places that would not normally need that generation capacity at a particular time, and then feed that into the grid to offset consumption by other consumers that do not have enough space for their own self-generation. Wheeling provides a viable route to unlock generation capacity. Some examples of these scenarios include large, big box warehousing and distribution centers that have a relatively small load compared to what their vast real estate, such as their expansive roofing areas and carports, can generate when fully covered by solar panels.
Having a good wheeling framework can unlock all this real estate, and this can help contribute significantly to the energy generation mix during the day. Another good example is where large pieces of land can be used to accommodate tens or hundreds of megawatts of solar PV installations, and the production from all this clean generation capacity can be wheeled as part of a collaboration with a large energy consumer elsewhere. A lot of these high energy consuming sites, such as data centers, may not always have sufficient space onsite or they could be directly connected to a high fossil fuel-powered grid, and can then use wheeling to incorporate as much renewable generation capacity as possible into their energy mix by offsetting their direct consumption from fossil fuels through enabling the generation from renewables offsite.
South Africa’s grid, which relies heavily on coal, is a good example of this, where these high energy consumers can help integrate more renewables into the grid by guaranteeing offtake of this wheeled electricity. South Africa is also facing a huge electricity generation shortfall, resulting in citizens experiencing prolonged spells of electricity rationing, or load-shedding. There are a lot of empty roofs and carports in South Africa that could be blanketed in solar panels with excess electricity wheeled through the national and municipal grids, unlocking significant additional generation capacity during the day. We have seen quite recently just how quickly accelerating the uptake of rooftop solar can add a lot of capacity.
South Africa’s national power utility company Eskom reckons that there is now about 4,412 MW of solar PV installed in the South African C&I and residential sectors. That is 4.4 GW of distributed solar, and the good news is that about 3,000 MW of this was added in just over a year, from March 2022 to June 2023. It just goes to show how fast solar can be added to the mix. Wheeling can then help accelerate this even further. There are also areas where old coal mines have been decommissioned, along with areas that had old coal power plants that have been retired or will soon be retired. Private firms can then help by investing in large scale solar PV plants in those locations and take advantage of the available land and existing grid infrastructure and then find credible offtakers to wheel the electricity. This can help unlock hundreds of megawatts of clean renewable capacity.
In a historic moment, and a major boost for electricity wheeling, the City of Cape Town recently announced that the first electrons of clean, green energy have officially been wheeled via the City of Cape Town’s energy grid. Growthpoint Properties became the first party to wheel renewable electricity in the City, in collaboration with licensed electricity trader Etana Energy. As part of the City’s wheeling pilot project, in which Etana was selected as a participating trader, solar energy generated at Growthpoint’s The Constantia Village shopping center in Constantia is being exported into Cape Town’s electricity grid for use at Growthpoint’s 36 Hans Strijdom office building in the Foreshore, the home of Investec and Ninety One.
A wheeling agreement between the City and Growthpoint was signed at the end of August and, in a milestone for renewable energy in Cape Town, solar power from the Constantia Village was successfully injected into the City’s energy grid for the first time on Sunday, September 10th, 2023.
The City’s six-month pilot project includes 15 wheeling participants representing 25 generators and 40 customers. The pilot will lay the groundwork for future wheeling in Cape Town and enable businesses to use energy from rooftop solar panels across multiple locations, encouraging them to optimize solar capacity instead of limiting it to individual building use.
“Overall, Cape Town is planning to add up to one gigawatt of independent power to end load-shedding in the city over time. The exact mix may vary, but we expect wheeling to contribute up to 350MW to the grid in time. Congratulations to the pioneering private sector players who successfully wheeled the very first electrons, and thanks to the City’s team who worked to get the enabling legislation, billing engine, and wheeling agreements in place. This is good news for the economy and the coming energy transition, which Cape Town is proud to be at the forefront of,” said Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.
Estienne de Klerk, SA CEO of Growthpoint Properties, said: “This project brings Growthpoint closer to our climate commitment of being carbon neutral by 2050 and is the starting point to providing clean green energy to our tenants in Cape Town to further their environmental commitments.”
Reyburn Hendricks, Director of Etana Energy, said: “We are incredibly excited about this landmark initiative. Allowing the wheeling of electricity to municipal connected customers will accelerate Etana’s mission of bringing much-needed new renewable energy generation onto the grid in South Africa.”
Cape Town’s “end load-shedding” plans include wheeling electricity, partnering with independent power producers, paying households and businesses “Cash for Power” generated by solar PV, the “Power Heroes” incentive scheme for households to reduce energy demand, solar PV farms, and further optimizing of the Steenbras Hydropower plant.
The City’s wheeling pilot aims to test and validate the contracting framework and billing engine for full-scale implementation. This initial transaction sets the foundation for Growthpoint to wheel clean energy to all its buildings in Cape Town in the future, including Ninety One’s office for the long term at 36 Hans Strijdom.
One of the other major players in South Africa’s property sector, Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Redefine Properties, recently shared that it is participating in the City of Cape Town’s first electricity wheeling pilot project that enables commercial entities to sell electricity back to the city’s grid. Redefine is undertaking a 5.9 MWp solar wheeling project on the roof of its Massmart Distribution Centre at its Brackengate 2 development. Now imagine a lot more warehouses, distribution centers, schools, universities, and other organizations with more space to generate electricity that they need from solar joining in a national wheeling program, which would provide a lot of clean electricity to the energy mix. Of course, a lot of these offtaker agreements are signed on the basis of these independent power producers offering lower tariffs for the energy they supply compared standard grid tariffs, and therefore the offtakers could save quite a lot of money in the process, and the power producers as well as the property owner could get a decent income and return on the investment as well.
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