MSc Research Helps eThekwini Set Renewable Electricity Tariffs

Findings from research conducted by a masters graduate have been successfully adopted by eThekwini Municipality in optimised renewable energy tariffs which have been approved by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA).

Mr Leshan Moodliar, who graduated with a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, found that the transition to renewable energy was a reality in South Africa and there was an urgent need to discover how municipalities and local governments across the country could manage this transition to ensure sustainability. ‘The traditional ways of buying and selling electricity are changing,’ said Moodliar.

After matriculating from Wingen Heights Secondary School in Shallcross, Moodliar completed his BSc Engineering degree at UKZN. Fifteen years later he registered for his master’s degree at the University.

Moodliar is employed by eThekwini Municipality where he plays a leading role in pricing electricity and managing regulation.

His master’s research evaluated the impact of renewable energy at the municipality. ‘As customers choose to generate their own electricity, they will buy less from the municipality and this will lead to revenue losses,’ he explained.

Moodliar’s study proposed a tariff optimisation option to help the municipality avert revenue losses, while still promoting the uptake of renewable energy.  The overall aim is to maintain a win-win scenario for all participating in the renewable energy space.

The study was influenced by local electricity challenges and the innovative ways that international municipalities are dealing with the introduction of renewable energy. ‘It’s only a matter of time before South Africa is fully exposed to the renewable energy regime, and we must be prepared,’ he said.

The results of the study highlighted the revenue risks of local renewable energy generation to the municipality and further proposed mitigation options.

‘By implementing the recommendations of the study, the municipality could continue unhindered with its service delivery mandate while promoting renewable energy,’ said Moodliar. ‘While the study was technical in nature, its outputs were balanced with tangible and implementable action items for eThekwini.’

Moodliar’s study outcomes have been successfully adopted by eThekwini Municipality via optimised renewable energy tariffs and been approved by NERSA.

The adoption and approval of the renewable energy tariffs will ensure that generators within eThekwini Municipality will soon benefit from the opportunity to sell back excess solar electricity to the municipality. This is a first for the city and for local generators, and is a progressive step towards promoting renewable energy within eThekwini.

‘My research is an excellent example of the value of academia, in resolving challenging problems,’ said Moodliar.

Deputy Head at the Electricity Unit Mr Roy Wienand said: ‘I have been inspired by Leshan’s desire to find better ways to serve our customers and his uncanny knowledge of electricity pricing. His presentations to the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU) and many international forums on electricity tariffs were always outstanding.’

Moodliar keeps himself fit by road running and cycling. With restrictions imposed by COVID-19, he has spent a lot of his indoor time in his garage experimenting with renewable energy systems such as solar panels and inverters.

‘Being a curious engineer at heart, I find myself stripping these systems to the core to understand their workings and evaluating their operations,’ he said.

Moodliar described his MSc as a challenging yet pleasant experience, saying it was important to maintain a healthy balance between family life and academia. With a young family and a full-time job, this generally meant studies were carried out late at night. ‘Every minute of sleep deprivation was well worth the sacrifice,’ he said.

After 14 years as an engineer, Moodliar has taken on an executive position within the Electricity Unit of eThekwini Municipality. ‘I am extremely excited, as I now have the opportunity to play a more strategic role in better aligning and preparing the organisation for the looming challenges that surface as we walk the path of renewable energy transition in South Africa,’ he said.

‘Our family is extremely proud of Leshan’s hard work and dedication,’ said his wife, Seshni Moodliar. ‘We look forward to his future successes. Congratulations Leshan, we love you!’

Words: Leena Rajpal  

Photograph:  Supplied