New ‘energy war room’ to tackle load shedding

 ·17 Dec 2019

South Africa’s Cabinet has taken the decision to re-establish an ‘energy war room’, which will tackle the country’s energy crisis head-on.

The war room is being set up by deputy president David Mabuza, and will include Finance minister Tito Mboweni, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe.

The team will deal with “any challenges to our energy supply in the country”, while also looking at issues of governance and the lack of financial management at Eskom.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said that energy war rooms had bee established in the past to tackle power crises, and now was the time to resuscitate it again.

Cabinet has also asked minister Gordhan to ensure that Eskom’s new CEO, Andre de Ruyter starts his position sooner. De Ruyter has been tasked to oversee Eskom’s turnaround strategy and to tackle the ongoing energy crisis.

The last time South Africa had an energy war room set up was five years ago at the end of 2014 by then-deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. The war room was set up amid Eskom’s second major round of load shedding, where stage 3 was reached for the first time.

The country’s power grid has been extremely vulnerable since then (and has been, since load shedding first happened in 2007), with the most recent round (the fourth period, after rolling blackouts returned in March 2019) – lasting over a week – escalating the crisis even further, hitting stage 6 for the first time.

Load shedding stages allow for Eskom to pull increasing amounts of power off the national grid to prevent a total blackout. At stage 1, Eskom can take off 1,000MW, all the way up to stage 8, where 8,000MW (approximately 20% of the national capacity) can be taken offline.

In a briefing ahead of the winter period for 2019, government and Eskom unveiled a plan to keep the country powered, which involved keeping unscheduled breakdowns of the grid under 9,500MW, and using emergency reserves of diesel and water to make up for the losses.

However, a combination of further unplanned breakdowns, heavy rains, inability to restock fuel reserves and alleged sabotage pushed the outages far past 12,500MW, necessitating the higher stages of load shedding.

With major industries closed for the holiday period, consumers have been given a slight reprieve, with no load shedding planned in the next week – however, Eskom has warned that the grid is vulnerable, and any unexpected occurrences can bring back load shedding without notice.

Read: Eskom keeps load shedding at bay for now

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