Could we be experiencing the early stages of a paradigm shift in the energy universe? Will this change the way we build, operate and finance our electricity infrastructure in South Africa?
Our energy sector has historically operated on a model of centralised, state-owned power plants, typically co-located with major sources of fuel. This has meant that a small number of large power plants have provided the vast bulk of electricity needs, typically physically clustered together.
Centralised generation refers to the large-scale generation of energy at a facility typically located away from end-users. The electricity that is generated is distributed through the power grid to multiple end-users.
The problem with the centralised model is the number of negative environmental impacts, and the fact that much of the primary energy of fossil fuels burned at power plants is wasted during generation and delivery to end-users.
In the African context, where rural electrification is a critical for any meaningful socio-economic activities, the centralised model is a significant obstacle. Nigeria has successfully implemented energy solutions that move completely away from the centralised approach and many other African countries are evaluating similar options.