Eskom hit by home solar: Consumers abandon utility in droves
Rooftop solar booms 108%, leaving Eskom facing potential R80 billion loss with customers fleeing the grid.
Despite Eskom forecasting a slight improvement in its finances for the current financial year, with more businesses and households abandoning the grid, experts say a major loss is still on the cards as the power utility loses more customers.
Eskom’s data shows that the amount of installed rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar on commercial and residential buildings doubled in the past year from the 2.4GWp level a year before to 5.04GWp (gigawatt peak), up by 108%.
Willie Cronje, a professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s electricity and information engineering department, said the loss of revenue was hypothetical and that “it’s not just a reflection of one specific thing.
“But the fact is, Eskom doesn’t have enough capacity to even notice the loss.
“Maybe in future, the power utility can generate more, then it might present them with an issue. But it’s not very crucial at the moment.”
Independent economic and energy analyst Tshepo Kgadima said that in the past financial year, Eskom went from selling 193 terawatt hours to 160 terawatt hours, which led to a loss of over R70 billion.
Anything less than that for the next financial year would leave it bankrupt. He also said that increasing tariffs and rolling blackouts were accelerating the migration.
“However, whether there is load shedding or not, people will still have to use those batteries and draw power from the batteries which they have charged during the day using solar,” he said.
“So it means that demand for Eskom will continue to go lower and lower and Eskom will lose revenue of close to R80 billion.
“Secondly, the tariffs, the equilibrium has been breached… It now costs less to go off grid as a household than to stay on. The tariff is R2.18 as approved by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa.”
He said even municipalities had a higher tariff “but now you can generate and go off grid for less than R1.60 a kilowatt-hour”.
“So no-one in their right mind will continue to draw power from Eskom because once they have installed a lesser solution, it means there are revenue losses the power utility will incur.”
Another energy analyst, Lungile Mashele, said that despite the slight increase, very few people were going off the grid.
“Most people who have solar are not completely off the grid. Almost everyone who has an alternative still relies on Eskom in the evening,” she added.
Last year, load shedding was more than double the amount experienced in 2022 at 24.6GWh, with the Eastern Cape leading the way.
Although Gauteng boasts the highest installed solar photovoltaic capacity at 1 217MWp, its growth in the past year has been the most modest, standing at just 43% – the lowest among all nine provinces.
The Western Cape experienced the most significant surge, nearly tripling its installed capacity within the year.
North West also had a substantial increase of over 200%. This was likely attributed to the commencement of several sizeable solar plants supplying mines in the region.
According to Moneyweb, the amount of “rooftop” solar installed by the private sector is nearing triple the 2.2GWp installed to date under the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.
Eskom also estimated the amount of solar installed by measuring the change in typical energy consumption in certain areas over time and then aggregating this data.
To a certain degree, rooftop PV systems contribute to smoothing out peak demand, particularly in residential settings.
Numerous households rely on solar-charged batteries during the night, potentially eliminating up to 1 gigawatt of night-time demand.