South African state-owned utility Eskom has switched on Africa’s biggest battery energy storage facility as it works to end the country’s ongoing electricity shortages.
The utility said the Hex Battery Energy Storage System in Worcester, Western Cape can store enough energy to power a town of 100,000 people for nearly 5 hours. However, analysts said the capacity remains insufficient to significantly impact the energy crisis.
Eskom has struggled to meet electricity demand due to its aging, poorly maintained coal power plants, resulting in rolling blackouts that have hampered South Africa’s economy.
Last year, Eskom contracted Hyosung Heavy Industries of South Korea and China’s Pinggao Group to construct battery storage projects with funding from the World Bank.
“Successful implementation will pave the way for wider adoption and potential export of the technology beyond South Africa,” said Eskom’s Velaphi Ntuli.
Eskom generates approximately 95% of South Africa’s electricity, as well as around 45% of the continent’s power. But its reliance on coal plants has made it slow to transition to renewable energy.
Critics said Eskom exemplifies the inefficiencies of a state-run monopoly. It has faced allegations of corruption and mismanagement over the years.
While the new battery facility highlights Eskom’s efforts to implement new technologies, its 200 megawatt capacity remains small relative to South Africa’s energy needs.
Eskom will need to continue enhancing grid stability and adding generation capacity from various sources like solar, wind and gas to overcome its generation shortfall.
Independent power producers can support those efforts. But Eskom still requires substantial reforms to improve plant maintenance, upgrade infrastructure and restore its financial health.
The utility is saddled with over $30 billion in debt, limiting its ability to invest in modernization. Ongoing blackouts cost South Africa as much as $7 billion annually in lost economic output.
Resolving the energy crisis is crucial for South Africa’s growth and stability. While the new battery storage system is a step forward, experts say bolder reforms are still needed at Eskom.