Prof Mark Swilling, co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions (CST) at Stellenbosch University has national energy strategy on his mind. Swilling has been appointed as a non-executive director of the board of the National Transmission Company of South Africa (NTCSA) of Eskom.

The first order of business, he said, will be to implement the Transmission Development Plan as set out by Eskom. His appointment reflects the effort and research conducted by the CST on the energy transition.

“It is a logical outcome of the enormous amount of work on energy transition that the CST has done over the last couple of years, including a highly influential report on transmission finance,” said Swilling.

Swilling has publicly argued that the transmission grid is a key component to solving South Africa’s energy crisis.

“It was not part of the Energy Action Plan to end loadshedding until recently. Now I am on the board of a new company that has to do something about it,” added Swilling.

Historically, Eskom has been an integrated utility; generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity across South Africa. However, since the release of the Eskom Roadmap in 2019, a report by the Department of Public Enterprises which was approved by Cabinet, provision was made to “un-bundle” Eskom into three separate subsidiaries. The NTCSA will ultimately be responsible for transmission and will be the buyer and seller of electricity regardless of who produces it.

Swilling’s extensive experience and research has made him the go-to expert on the energy sector and grid expansion, amongst many other elements of making change, and he has spoken broadly about ways to end loadshedding in South Africa.

“The quickest way to end loadshedding is to ensure that 5GW of renewable energy is constructed and connected to the grid per annum. The total quantity of projects in the current pipeline is equal to this, however, the transmission grid is constrained due to many years of neglect and under-investment. So, the quicker the NTCSA can extend the grid, the quicker more renewables can be connected to the national transmission grid, which will hasten the ending of loadshedding,” said Swilling.

In addition to Swilling, 11 other board members have been appointed and will be responsible for setting the overall policy direction, strategic management framework, and guiding the executive team to deliver on their mandate.

“The appointment of the NTCSA board constitutes one of the most important pillars of Eskom’s legal separation into three entities, namely Generation, Distribution and Transmission, which is the key aspect of Eskom’s Turnaround Plan envisaged in the Department of Public Enterprises’ ‘Roadmap for Eskom in a reformed electricity supply industry’,” said Eskom.

In addition to the research and work done on the energy transition, Swilling credits his appointment to the NTCSA board to the many years that he served as chairperson of the DBSA board.

Added Swilling: “I would not have been appointed to the NTCSA board if I had not had nine years on the board of the DBSA. DBSA has invested in Eskom and in the renewables programme and set up the Renewable Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme. So, being on the board of DBSA has been essential for preparing me for this new role.”