President Cyril Ramaphosa says it is ‘difficult and unacceptable’ that South Africa continues to face ongoing load shedding, with his government now working to ensure it comes to a permanent end.
Writing in his weekly letter to the public, Ramaphosa said that rolling blackouts are costly for the economy, causing significant frustration and hardship for all citizens and businesses.
“The country has been experiencing power shortages on and off for more than a decade. However, we are determined that this should not continue to be a part of our lives into the future.
“Even as we continue to experience crippling load-shedding, the reality is that much progress has been made towards ending our energy supply challenges,” the president said.
For years, the existing power stations were not appropriately maintained, mainly as these plants were made to ‘run harder’ to meet the country’s energy needs, he said. There was insufficient investment in the technical skills needed to operate and maintain power plants.
This situation was made worse by the devastating impact of state capture. The president said that billions of rands were diverted from critical operational requirements at Eskom into private pockets.
“In short, the load shedding we experience now is the result of policy missteps and the impact of state capture over many years. This is the situation that we have confronted since the start of this administration and that we are all working to fix.”
The end of load shedding
While it may be difficult to imagine a future without load shedding, the steps government is taking now will ensure that the country gets there, Ramaphosa said.
“In 2018, we revived the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme that had been stalled since 2015. This enabled 2,205 MW from Bid Window 4 to proceed to construction, most of which has now been connected to the grid.
“A further 5,200 MW of solar and wind power is being procured through Bid Windows 5 and 6. This additional generation capacity is due to connect to the grid from late 2023. The Integrated Resource Plan 2019 provides for a further 3,000 MW of gas and 500 MW of battery storage to be procured from independent power producers. ”
In June 2021, Ramaphosa also announced that the licensing threshold for new generation projects would be raised from 1 MW to 100 MW. This means that private investors do not require a license to build generation facilities up to this size and can produce their own power or sell it across the grid to other buyers.
“A joint task team comprising all relevant government departments and the private sector is working to accelerate investments in new generation projects under 100 MW. There is a pipeline of 58 projects under development with a combined capacity of 4,500 MW, many of which will commence construction this year. The task team is working to speed up environmental authorisation and other approvals.
“South Africa’s energy security can only be assured if we reduce reliance on a single utility for power and unlock private investment in generation capacity. This is one of the most important reforms contained in the draft Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill that was gazetted for public comment in February.”
The draft Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill provides for the establishment of an independent transmission and system operator. This means that while the national grid will remain owned and controlled by the state, there will be competition among multiple generators selling power to distributors and customers.
“The introduction of a competitive electricity market will unleash new investment in generation capacity and will be a key driver of economic growth. This reform process has already begun with the establishment of a separate transmission subsidiary by Eskom in December 2021, with the unbundling of Eskom on track to be completed by December 2022,” Ramaphosa said.
He added that Eskom is forging ahead with its maintenance programme and correcting design defects in its plants at Medupi and Kusile.
It is also decommissioning old power stations that have reached the end of their design life and repurposing others to use cleaner energy sources. The power utility is also bringing in additional skills to assist with maintenance, including former employees and experienced plant managers.
“It is difficult to expect the millions of South Africans grappling with the inconvenience and hardship caused by intermittent power outages to remain patient as we resolve these longstanding challenges. It is difficult to convince them, as they sit in the dark, that we are making progress towards a secure and reliable supply of electricity.”