The private sector has submitted bids to the government to build 6 000MW of wind and solar power plants – more than the capacity of the 4 800MW Medupi coal-fired power plant still under construction.

Industry sources say this is probably five or six times more megawatts of renewable energy than the government will authorise.

On Wednesday the SA Renewable Energy Council called for an “aggressive increase” in the amount of renewable power to be built in the country, saying it was the cheapest and fastest way of easing the electricity crisis.

The 6 000MW of power is the total amount of megawatts that investors submitted in the fourth and most recent round of bids to be allowed to build renewable energy power plants under the Department of Energy’s renewable energy programme.

The bid results have not been announced yet.

The council said a CSIR study on the cost of renewable power had shown that the 1 600MW of wind and solar power already in operation was generating electricity at zero cost to the country, despite the fact that the cost of renewables when those projects were approved by the government was far higher than they are today.

The council said renewable energy fuel was free, construction costs were borne by the private sector, and the CSIR study had established that the amount of diesel and coal which renewables saved last year amounted to R5.3 billion. This was greater than the R4.5bn Eskom paid to buy the electricity from the renewable energy sector.

Pancho Ndebele, council board member, said the projects that made up the 6 000MW worth of bids had all received regulatory approvals, including environmental approvals, and had been assessed by financial institutions as being financially sound and were ready for implementation.

“A number of these projects can be built and connected to the grid within a 14 to 24-month time-frame. In the light of load-shedding, and of the fuel savings demonstrated by the CSIR study, these projects can take considerable pressure off diesel purchases and load-shedding. We should aggressively increase our renewables ambition,” Ndebele said.

Eskom is spending about R1bn a month on diesel to make up for the shortage of electricity supply, while load-shedding was costing the country about 87c a kilowatt hour, he said.