He adds: “deregulation would open a market for people to produce power and sell power and that would revolutionise the energy landscape in South Africa. Technically it wouldn’t be a difficult or complex thing to do; there are plenty of precedents around the world where it has worked really well.”
Mini grids have become increasingly important on the continent and are being built at a rapid rate with more than 2000 mini grids currently across Africa. Says Dr Duby: “it’s a combination of people waking up to the fact that it is the only realistic solution for remote and rural electrification, combined with the ever falling costs of the technology that make it increasingly viable.
At the same time you have got governments starting to see precedents, starting to see regulations and policy landscapes that have worked and are not quite so scared of it as a route. Slowly the regulation side is easing and as a result the sector is growing. This is also echoed by an increase in investment, both from the donor community as well as the private community. Mini grids are hugely important now and ever more so going forward.”
The biggest challenge is South Africa’s regulated energy market, he explains: “in the context of what is happening in South Africa’s energy landscape now, the recently rolling blackouts and huge amounts of pressure on the ageing supply, the generators.”
“Effectively,” says Dr Duby, “if we had more of a deregulated market and people were allowed to build their own power sources, whether it is a vineyard with solar panels on the roof, and to feed any surplus into the grid, you would have these decentralised nodes of generation, all of which were feeding into the grid. This means we wouldn’t be so reliant on what currently are just a few sources of energy.”
“So whole communities and towns could become 100% energy independent. Interestingly, if you look at mini grids in poor parts of sub-Saharan Africa, they are isolated nodes of generation and supply. You can imagine as that grows, these nodes linking together to create a mesh if you like. And that is an incredibly robust, resilient framework for energy infrastructure anywhere.
Creating a market for independently produced energy would also very quickly incentivise and unlock investment into the space. As more projects were built and generation capacity added, you would also very quickly get more system resilience. Blackouts really could be a thing of the past.“