When I stayed in South Africa for the first time between 2004 and 2007, I experienced only one case of power failure and it lasted less than 30 minutes. When I came for a one week visit in Pretoria in 2015, the situation was completely different. Rolling blackouts were the order of the day.

I relocated to South Africa toward the end of last year. It looks like things are getting worse. The blackouts are becoming more and more frequent. As I write, we are in the middle of a power crisis. Power may go off even as write :).

When I checked online, I found that the energy crisis started a few months after my first sojourn in the latter months of 2007. This implies that the problem has been around for the past 12 years. And it looks like there are no concrete plans on the way forward.

Eskom, the government owned national power utility, is the primary power producer in South Africa. According to Rod Crompton, Eskom is among the biggest power utilities in the world; most of their power plants use coal with one nuclear station and some pumped storage (water).

IOL has recently reported that Eskom is struggling with a massive debt of R450 billion and is failing to meet the energy demand because its coal-fired power stations haven’t been maintained properly. IOL further reports that the country desperately needs an additional and 5 000 megawatts of power.

I concur with the views of the mining industry. South Africa’s energy security lies in the easing of regulatory frameworks to cater for more involvement of independent power producers and self power generation in the energy industry.

The Sowetan reports that private businesses have been clamoring for regulations to be eased to allow them to generate more of their own power. Currently they are required to get a license to generate more than 1MW of electricity. Apparently, the application process for that licence is very cumbersome and tedious.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Minister has wide powers to determine new generation capacity (determination) in terms of section 34 of the Electricity Regulation Act of 2006 (the ERA). I never knew that this minister has such immense powers.

Business Insider South Africa reports that there is some light at the end of the load-shedding tunnel because some 27 renewable energy independent power producer projects (REIPPP), which were approved in 2018 after many administrative delays, will be connected to the grid starting from early next year.  

According to the Independent Power Producers website, the REIPPP projects will add 2,300 megawatts to Eskom’s struggling grid, which will still not be enough to meet the required 5,000 megawatts. There is still a need of 2,700 megawatts.

Therefore, there is a need for more self-generation and independent power producers in the South African energy industry. The Daily Maverick reports that in 2015, the City of Cape Town asked the Minister of Energy for a Section 34 determination that would allow the city to procure 150MW of solar energy and 280MW of wind energy from Independent Power Producers.

Two years later, the City of Cape Town started legal proceedings against the Department of Energy and Nersa on this issue. The matter is scheduled for hearing in May 2020. But in light of the ongoing load shedding, the City has requested that the case be expedited.

Meanwhile, the mining industry is also promising to provide 1.67 gigawatts of projects subject to government permission. The mining industry is pledging  869MW of solar power and up to 800MW of conventional power over the next three to four years.

It really looks like the government is very reluctant to depart from the current setup in the energy industry. They really want to protect Eskom’s monopoly. But trying to save Eskom is coming at the expense of the entire economy of South Africa.

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